Creamy risotto drenched in cavolo nero (lacinato kale) pesto with burst cherry tomatoes and creamy melty mascarpone cheese. This dinner packs in some healthy greens whilst having a dreamy texture and lots of vibrant summery flavors. You will have leftover pesto for another meal too!
As some of you already know, I LOVE cavolo nero and using it to make pesto is one of my favorite ways to eat it. It transforms from a tough chewy leaf into a delicious creamy sauce, and in this recipe we use it to bring a pan of humble risotto to life.
You have to be in the mood for risotto making because we are making it the legit way today, no hacking it with the oven baked method, which my prior risotto recipes tended to do. We will stand and we will stir and we will like it.
And I actually do like the standing and stirring sometimes. With the right nonstick pan, an open window, some tunes on, some wine poured, it can be a relaxing way to wind down.
Clearly I don’t make this when my kids are awake.
Another way to make sure this is stress-free is just to have everything prepped in advance. Have the kale made, the risotto ingredients measured out, before you start cooking the risotto. So you don’t have to try to manage stirring risotto alongside grating cheese and zesting lemon. I am really bad at doing this myself, but it does help the mood in the kitchen for sure.
Adding cavolo nero pesto to risotto is all very good and tasty, and you’re welcome to just use that concept to make your own risotto with your own preferred toppings. Or if you just needed a simple side dish, and already have a bunch of other stuff going on, then just make the base recipe and proceed as you wish.
But if you want to do this as I did, and make a full meal of it, my recipe has you add roasted cherry tomatoes (they roast in the oven while you cook the risotto so it’s a fairly hands off addition) and a dollop of creamy mascarpone or ricotta cheese.
My photos use mascarpone, which you can see melts into the risotto adding a beautiful texture and making sure every bite isn’t totally the same.
Another idea – using extra cavolo nero for topping!
Another idea I had, which I was a little too lazy to try, was to take a couple leaves of cavolo nero, chop it up and pan fry it to add to the topping. This would give a little more texture to the dish and let you enjoy some of the leaves whole too. For me this was a little too much effort, since we already have the oven and one pan on the go, but you should try it if you have the time and multitasking abilities.
Equipment needed for your risotto
- You’ll need a food processor or mini chopper to make the pesto in. I use the smallest bowl of my food processor. It’s a tight squeeze with the amount of leaves going in, so you may need to start blending before all the leaves are in, and add them when it’s reduced enough.
- You need the widest bottomed dish you have, ideally with low sides. Mine is a 13.5 inch cast iron risotto / paella pan but before having this I just used a shallow enamel casserole dish and that works too. I will say that a legit risotto / paella dish is a worthwhile investment for risotto lovers, if you can afford it. It lets the liquid evaporate evenly, the non-stick cast iron makes stirring incredibly easy, the rice just glides around without a care in the world, it’s honestly kinda fun.
Good news: you will have leftover pesto
I’ve made a fairly small batch of this risotto in the recipe, simply because I don’t love it reheated (reheating it means the pesto gets too hot and loses its vibrant fresh flavor). So I just wanted to make 3-4 servings at a time. BUT I am giving you the recipe for an entire batch of the cavolo nero pesto.
You can of course cut the pesto recipe in half to fit the amount of risotto, or double the risotto to fit the amount of pesto, but I see leftover pesto as a huge win. Some ideas for how to use it up:
- Pesto Toast
- Garlic Mushroom & Pesto Pasta
- Potato Tomato Bake with Kale Pesto
- Halloumi Tray Bake with Pesto Rice & Roasted Vegetables
Cavolo Nero Pesto Risotto
- 200 g (1 cups) arborio rice
- 3 small shallots
- 50 g (0.5 cups) pecorino or parmesan cheese*
- 1 lemon, zest
- 120 ml white wine
- 950 ml (4 cups) vegetable stock
- 300 g (11 oz) cherry tomatoes
- 4 Tbsp ricotta or mascarpone cheese, for topping
- lemon wedges, for squeezing (optional)
For the Pesto
- 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 cheese*, grated or roughly chopped cubed
- 1 bunch basil
- Salt, to taste
- 100 ml (0.40 cups) extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F.
- Make the pesto – 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.)200 g cavolo nero, 2 cloves garlic, Juice of 1 lemon, 4 Tbsp pine nuts, 1 bunch basil, 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
- Toss the cherry tomatoes in a light coating of olive oil, add salt and pepper to taste, and then tip them out onto a baking tray. Place in the oven for 20 minutes. They will probably be ready before the risotto, but you can let them sit in the oven with the heat off and the door open until you need them300 g cherry tomatoes
- Risotto time! You will start by sauteing your shallots until soft.
- Add the arborio rice and let it cook for a minute or two, until you smell a slight toasty-ness.
- Add the wine, stir through, allow it to evaporate.
- Now add a pour of vegetable stock, enough to immerse all of the rice, and let it cook, stirring constantly, until absorbed. Add more stock, and repeat this process, you will need to do this several times.
- After 15 minutes give the rice a try to assess how cooked it is. Continue to add more liquid, and stir until absorbed, until you are satisfied that the rice is cooked. You want it a little al dente but not crunchy. You may not need all of the stock, or you may run out of stock and need more (you can just use water or extra wine if this happens and you don't have any more stock available).
- Once you're happy with the risotto, add the lemon zest and cheese. Turn off the heat.
- Stir until the cheese is melted. If it feels too sticky, add some extra water or stock. You want it to be creamy but a little loose, not a sticky mass.
- Now add a few heaping spoonfuls of the kale pesto and mix it through, without any heat being applied to the pan.
- The amount of pesto to add is your choice, I usually add 4-5 heaped spoonfuls but you can add more or less depending on how strongly flavored you want your risotto; feel free to try small bites to assess how concentrated the flavor is.
- Now add the cherry tomatoes and spoonfuls of mascarpone. You can also add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and an additional squeeze of lemon if you wish. Serve immediately.