Cavolo nero or tuscan kale as it is called is my favourite leafy green. It is simple to grow, demands very little and is so very easy to prepare. I tend to just wilt it in a pan with some garlic or use it in my favourite winter stew. Alternatively I chop it very finely and add it fresh to salads in smaller quantities. I love its nutty flavour and the fact that it doesn’t need much cooking. In fact it benefits from shorter cooking times in terms of flavour and texture. It was only a matter of time until I turned this leafy green into a cavolo nero pesto.
Much to my delight the colour of the cavolo nero pesto turned out to be as vibrant as the taste. It is earthy, strong and with a deep nutty flavour that the kale provides. By using a smaller quantity of basil I have found that this is a great way to keep your basil plants happy on the windowsill without having to cut the whole plant down to make one portion of pesto.
Generally a pesto is made with pine nuts but I opted for the more affordable cashews since the pine taste would be lost in this version. The cashews give this cavolo nero pesto a lighter touch thanks to their sweetness and the creaminess that they provide. While the process is as simple as with any pesto there is one crucial step you should never skip when cooking with this type of kale. Remove the thick leaf stalk, it is especially necessary with larger leaves. Leaving the stem in causes a very unpleasant texture and hair like strings in your pesto.
After this it is just a matter of roughly chopping the leaves up and adding them with the other ingredients to a food processor. I tend to process it until there are a few bigger chunks of cashews left and then I add a few spoons of the boiling pasta water to it. In a normal pesto genovese you wouldn’t need that but keep in mind that kale is a lot denser than basil and profits from the starch and liquid that the pasta water provides.
While it is enough for the traditional pesto to just touch the hot pasta to get “cooked” the kale leaves need a bit of extra help. Just add the hot water and blend for a few more seconds. By doing this you cook the kale just enough to change its taste without altering the bright green colour.
Once your pasta of choice is cooked and ready, spoon the cavolo nero pesto into the pot and give it a good stir. Garnish with some red pepper and salt to taste. Enjoy.
- 45 g (1 cup very tightly packed) cavolo nero, washed and chopped
- 90g (2/3 cup) cashews
- 5 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped basil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 tsp nutritional yeast
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 3 tbsp hot water, ideally from your boiling pasta or potatoes
- Wash the kale, remove the stems from the leaves and chop it roughly.
- Add it with the remaining ingredients to a food processor - except the hot water.
- Process until it is a smooth mass with a few cashew chunks. Add the hot water and process for a few more seconds.
- Serve immediately with pasta, potatoes, zucchini noodles or whatever you prefer.