Kale Pesto is a fun twist on the classic basil pesto recipe. Made with nutritious bright green kale, spicy basil, sweet pine nuts, and salty Romano cheese, this easy make-ahead homemade sauce has a fresh flavor and is ready in just 10 minutes.

kale pesto in a mason jar

Why We Love Kale Pesto

While I always love classic basil pesto, I have also been making this Kale Pesto on repeat this summer with fresh kale from my garden. I grew a whole row of it because kale is one of my favorite leafy greens! I have been using it for kale salad, sauteed kale and now I am sharing my recipe for kale pesto!

Recipe Highlights

  • Made with a bunch of kale and just a handful of simple ingredients
  • Only takes minutes to whip up
  • Can be frozen
  • Great for fall and winter when basil is not at its peak
  • It goes great with pizza, pasta dishes, our steak with kale pesto, or any recipe that uses pesto

Ingredients for this Kale Pesto Recipe

kale pesto ingredients with text overlay
  • Fresh Kale: This low-calorie vibrant green is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you can consume. Any variety of kale will work in this recipe, like lacinato kale, tuscan kale or curly kale.
  • Basil: Fresh basil gives this kale pesto the classic, herby flavor. Dried basil cannot be used as the flavor profile is vastly different than fresh herbs and will produce an overly oily sauce.
  • Pine Nuts: Traditionally used in pesto however they aren’t always the easiest to find or budget-friendly. So, feel free to swap in antioxidant-rich walnuts – not only are walnuts a fraction of the cost, but they provide a rich nutty flavor and an extra creamy texture.
  • Pecorino Romano: Provides subtle saltiness and nutty undertones to this delicious homemade pesto. Parmigiano Reggiano, can be used instead.
  • Kitchen Staples: Extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and raw garlic cloves.

How to Make Homemade Kale Pesto

Step 1: Chop Garlic

To a running food processor, finely chop garlic.

Step 2: Blend the Greens

To the processor, add the kale and basil. Pulse. Then process continuously until the greens are finely chopped.

Step 3: Add Nuts and Cheese

To the blended greens add in pinenuts, Romano cheese, and salt.

Step 4: Finish Pesto

Pulse to combine. Scrape down the sides as needed. Then, with the motor running, drizzle in the oil. Scrape sides and process again until smooth.

overhead view of homemade kale pesto in a black bowl with a spoon

FAQ and Expert Tips

FAQs for Kale Pesto

Can you make kale pesto in a blender (instead of a food processor)?

This easy kale pesto recipe can be made in a food processor or a blender.

  • If using a blender and the blade doesn’t grab the ingredients and the mixer free spins, pulse the pesto sauce and try to use the masher (as for a Vitamix) or turn the motor off and stir by hand.
  • Add in a couple of tablespoons of water to help thin it out if necessary.

Can you use spinach instead of kale?

Yes you can! Feel free to use spinach instead of kale for pesto. We’ve been fans of spinach pesto for a while like in our Spinach Pesto and Cheddar Quesadillas and our Slow Cooker Ham Barley Soup with Spinach Pesto!  To make it. follow the same instructions just weigh out 6 ounces of spinach.

Why does it taste bitter?

Once in a while my kale pesto will be bitter. To avoid that, taste your kale first. If you find that your kale is bitter:

  • Add a little lemon juice (try 2 tsp) and use a neutral oil such as avocado oil or canola instead of the EVOO.
  • Do not skimp on the salt. The salt (and cheese) help balance the bitter flavors of the kale.
  • Pair with other bold flavors such as feta cheese, goat cheese, olives, or smoked sausage.

Do I have to remove the kale stems when making pesto?

Yes the kale stems are too hard and fibrous to use in the pesto. We also remove the basil stems, but only if using basil that has thicker, woodier stems, remove the stems prior to blending. If you have young basil or hydroponic basil toss the stems and leave into the processor and blend away!

Make Ahead, Freezing and Storage

Homemade kale pesto is a great make-ahead condiment and can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days in an airtight container.

Homemade kale pesto can be frozen for up to 8 months when stored in a freezer-safe container with plastic pressed on the top.

You could even freeze the kale pesto in ice cube trays for perfect single serve portions for fast lunches!

Substitutions and Variations to Try

  • For a touch of brightness, add lemon zest or fresh lemon juice
  • Experiment with different types of nuts, like almonds or walnuts, or seeds such as hemp seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) or sunflower seeds
  • Use a little additional oil such as flaxseed or avocado oil
  • Use nutritional yeast to make this dairy-free
  • Add parsley for a subtle pepperiness

Serving Suggestions for Kale and Basil Pesto

  • Stir a few spoonfuls of the pesto into mashed potatoes
  • Drizzle over grilled potatoes for a touch of savory notes
  • Mix into an aioli (try our lighter aioli made with yogurt) and use as a dip for french fries
  • Use as a condiment for paninis or as a sandwich spread
  • Stir into soup to amp up the Mediterranean flavors
  • Make it into a pesto butter and serve with whole wheat bread or warm whole wheat rolls
  • Add a dollop of homemade pesto to fried eggs for a rich, slightly salty topping
Pasta in a black bowl dressed in homemade kale pesto

How to Make Kale Pesto Pasta

If you have never tried pasta with kale sauce before you are in for a treat. Here’s how to make it:

  1. Boil pasta according to package instructions just until al dente.
  2. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid and drain the pasta.
  3. Toss the pasta with the kale pesto, thinning it with the cooking liquid until it is evenly coated. Use about 1 cup of pesto per one-pound box of pasta. Add additional pesto to taste if you prefer more saucy pasta. Season with salt and pepper and add grated Parmesan cheese and lemon zest if desired.

If you love pasta with greens, try our Arugula Pasta too! It is bold and peppery and a wonderful way to get your greens.

Additional Kale Recipes to Try

Thanks so much for reading! If you are new here, you may want to sign up for my email newsletter to get a free weekly menu plan and the latest recipes right to your inbox. If you make this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review. I would love to hear what you thought!

Happy Cooking! ~Katie

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overhead photo of homemade kale pesto in circular black dish with a spoon

Kale Pesto


  • Author: Katie Webster
  • Total Time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: 9 servings 1x

Description

Kale Pesto is a fun twist on the classic pesto recipe. Made with nutritious kale, spicy basil, sweet pinenuts, and salty Romano cheese, this easy make-ahead homemade sauce is ready in just 10 minutes and lasts for months in the freezer!


Ingredients

Scale
  • 1 peeled clove garlic
  • 4 cups clean kale leaves, loosely packed (3 ½ ounces)
  • 1 cup clean loosely packed basil leaves
  • ½ cup walnuts or pine nuts
  • 7 tablespoons shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1. With the motor of the food processor running, drop garlic through the feed tube and allow to process until finely chopped.
  2. Open the lid, and add kale and basil. Pulse and then process continuously until the greens are finely chopped.
  3. Open the lid, and add pinenuts (or walnuts), Romano (or Parmesan), and salt.
  4. Pulse to combine and scrape down the sides. With the motor running drizzle in oil. Scrape sides and process again until smooth.

Notes

Make Ahead: Can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. 

Freezing: Store in the freezer, for 8 months, with plastic on top of the sauce, for up to 8 months. 

  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Sauces and Condiments
  • Method: Food Processor
  • Cuisine: Italian

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 2 tablespoons
  • Calories: 152
  • Sugar: 0 g
  • Fat: 16 g
  • Carbohydrates: 1 g
  • Fiber: 1 g
  • Protein: 4 g

Keywords: kale pesto, kale pesto recipe, kale sauce, kale and basil pesto, kale basil pesto, kale sauce pasta, basil and kale pesto, kale pesto pasta