Kale Sauce with Pasta or Zoodles

Feb 17, 2024 | Recipes

When we first served this at a Live By Living retreat, several of the volunteers were skeptical. “Kale sauce? Better get some Rao’s as a backup.” I’m not sure where their doubts came from, but pretty much everyone was a member of the clean plate club by the end of the meal. Most were asking for the recipe, including the skeptical volunteers.

You might call this sauce a pesto, but it’s much milder than traditional basil pesto. Less garlic, less olive oil. In any case, It’s delicious, and super healthy. Put it on regular pasta, whole wheat, gluten free noodles or zoodles (zoodles are zucchini that have been spiralized into long noodles. Oxo makes a great spiralizer. You can use it on many different vegetables). Omit the cheese for a vegan version. Here it is.

(sauce recipe by Joshua McFadden, adapted by Tejai Rao, and further adapted by Live By Living)

·       3 T. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
·       1-2 garlic cloves, smashed flat and peeled
·       1 pound lacinato (dino) kale, thick ribs removed (curly kale is fine, too)
·       ¾ cup coarsely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
·       Salt
·       black pepper
·       ½ pound short pasta, like pappardelle or rigatoni OR Zoodles, below

  1. Put a pot of generously salted water over high heat, and bring to a boil. You should have enough water to cover the amount of pasta you will be using pasta by an inch or two. (I like to use less water for pasta so the water gets really starchy – it makes for a better thickener for sauce.)
  2. While water is heating, in a small skillet over low heat, add olive oil and garlic, and cook until the garlic begins to turn light gold, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  3. When water comes to a boil, add kale leaves, and cook until tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes.
  4. Pull out the hot, dripping kale leaves with tongs, and put directly into a blender or food processor. If using pasta instead of zoodles, don’t drain the pot; you’ll use that same boiling water to cook the pasta.
  5. Add garlic and olive oil to the blender/food precessor and puree. If needed, add a splash of hot water from the pot to get the blender/processor going.
  6. Add the pasta to the still-boiling water, and cook according to directions on the package.
  7. Blend kale leaves and garlic/oil mixture into a fine, thick green purée. (This may take a few minutes.)
  8. Pause the blender/processor and add parmesan. Continue blending until well mixed.
  9. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed, then blend again.
  10. Ladle out about a cup of the pasta water to save for finishing the dish.
  11. Drain the pasta and return it to the dry pot.
  12. Add the kale purée and a splash of the reserved pasta water to the pasta. Toss over low heat until all the pasta is well coated and bright green, adding another splash of pasta water if needed so that the sauce is loose and almost creamy in texture. Serve in bowls right away, and top with an extra drizzle of olive oil and additional grated cheese if desired.

If using zoodles instead of pasta, while boiling the kale, start sautéing the zoodles until soft. (Use about 10-12 oz. zoodles per person.) You can sauté in a non-stick pan with no oil, or add a teaspoon or 2.  Top with sauce.