Cavolo nero pesto is a delicious, vibrant sauce that you will love – and the fact it is so jam packed with this nutritious leafy green is an amazing healthy bonus! Black kale, tuscan kale, lacinato kale, dinosaur kale, call it what you will – cavolo nero lends an extra flavor dimension to this pesto and it can be made with or without the classic basil.
Oh, just look at that. A big batch of cavolo nero pesto! Today will be a good day.
If you’re going to go to the effort of making homemade pesto, this is such a gem of a recipe because it’s not too hard to make and the cavolo nero offers upgrades in taste (it’s so unexpectedly good) AND nutrition (all that cavolo nero bring nutrients and even iron to the party) AND aesthetic (that gorgeous shock of green!) It makes you wonder where it’s been all this time.
My recipe adds basil, which isn’t typical of cavolo nero pesto recipes. Most use cavolo nero instead of basil as the central ingredient and this honestly tastes amazing too. I enjoy it with both, but you can and should omit the basil from this recipe if a) you don’t have any or b) you are looking for a slightly different, less summery, less obviously pesto-y pesto.
This is easy to put together from supermarket ingredients, even most smaller supermarkets will have these ingredients so YAY.
- Cavolo Nero: I call for 200 grams of the good stuff, that’s the usual size of a pack in the supermarket. This is pretty flexible though. I’ve tried it with half that amount and it still works.
- Basil: As discussed, this is optional, and the quantity is flexible too. Again I use a supermarket pack, you could just grab a couple big handfuls off a plant.
- Lemon: Juice of one lemon, job done. Never ever ever swap in bottled lemon juice though, it’s gotta be a fresh lemon situation.
- Pecorino or Parmesan Cheese: Parmesan isn’t technically vegetarian friendly due to animal rennet, so I used a vegetarian stamped pecorino for this (from Tesco). There are various Italian hard cheeses that use vegetarian rennet but none are ever quite as deeply flavored – adding a little extra salt to the pesto helps.
- Pine Nuts: You can swap in other nuts if you’re shopping on a budget, because they really are shockingly expensive, but I do love to use the classic pine nut here when I can.
- Olive Oil: You ideally want extra virgin.
And all you have to do is just blend it all in a food processor.
Do we need to blanch the cavolo nero?
Some recipes will ask you to blanch or boil your cavolo nero before you make your pesto. This will give your pesto an even brighter color, but more crucially it will soften your cavolo nero and leave you a gorgeously creamy, melty pesto.
Personally, I don’t do this and my recipe has you put the cavolo nero in raw. What you get is a little more textured, more fresh and bright tasting, which I find enjoyable. And it’s sooo much easier to make. However, if you’d like to try blanching, there are instructions in the recipe notes.
I would add that if you want to make this kid friendly, it could be a good idea to do the blanching. If your child enjoys jarred pesto, they may find the chunkier texture of this off putting, and I definitely want to increase your chances of success here. Your child enjoying this nutritionally boosted pesto would be a huge win, and worth the extra step.
What to Do with It
The fun part!
Mixing it into pasta, gnocchi or grains
This is, of course, a total dream in a bowl with spaghetti. Even on its own, it’s a decent meal. Because of how thick it is, it’s a great idea to reserve some of the pasta cooking water to add while stirring it through. This helps it become a nice saucy consistency.
Add some cherry tomatoes, roasted mushrooms or veggie meatballs if you want to.
Spread on Toast
It’s so tasty you can just spread it on toast and call it a day! Though other toast toppers such as tomatoes, avocado, or egg are always good too.
And some other ideas
- Spread in a wrap, sandwich or quesadilla
- Spoon it over a baked potato, or even smashed potatoes
- Stir into soup
- Mix into grains or beans to give them a flavor boost
I have a few recipes on the site which call for pesto or kale pesto, and would be a dream with this Cavolo Nero version:
Try it with…
Cavolo Nero Pesto with Basil
- 200 g (7 oz) cavolo nero, stems removed and leaves roughly torn or chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 4 Tbsp pine nuts
- 50 g (0.5 cups) pecorino or parmesan*, grated or roughly chopped cubed
- 1 bunch basil
- Salt, to taste
- 100 ml (0.40 cups) extra virgin olive oil
- Blend all of the ingredients in a food processor. (You may want to start with only half of the cavolo nero, if it won't all fit in at once, and add the remaining amount once the rest is blended.)