Black Kale Pesto recipe

Cavolo nero pesto with spaghetti and slow roasted tomatoes

This dark green and delicious pesto is made with black kale (also known as cavolo nero) instead of basil. I love cavolo nero and it's my joint favourite vegetable alongside rainbow chard. While chard is gorgeous, bright and has edible stems, cavolo nero is more robust. Nigel Slater describes its taste as "sweet and earthy". You could eat its stems but they’re pretty tough so I usually remove them. In this recipe the stems don’t really matter as the kale gets blitzed in a food processor along with nuts, garlic, hard Italian cheese, lemon juice and olive oil. 

I like this pesto to be kale heavy, lighter on the nuts and slightly less oily than regular pesto but it’s a flexible recipe. You can make it extra garlicky, use almonds, cashews or even walnuts and if you don’t have Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano, a few anchovies will stand in to add the umami flavour that makes this pesto so good. 

The strong flavours pair nicely with white or whole wheat pasta and I often add some form of tomato to make the dish more interesting. Slow roasted, sun-dried, or fresh, halved cherry tomatoes all work well. If you have any toasted pine nuts they’re a great addition but can be expensive so I don’t always have them to hand. Regardless of the ingredients, a squeeze of lemon at the end gives the dish a lift and any leftovers reheat well over the next few days.

My food processor came with a special Parmesan disc but to be honest I’ve never used it; I break up the Parmesan into smaller chunks and put it in the main bowl with the normal blade. This is probably why my food processor is struggling and the blades are blunt and covered in burrs. Anyway, that’s why I’ve specified grated cheese in the ingredients but I usually blitz the cheese in the food processor just after I’ve done the nuts.


Replace the cheese with nutritional yeast to make this dish vegan, but add a little at a time and keep tasting.


Serves: 4

Black kale pesto

  • 150g cavolo nero (large stems removed)
  • 40g almonds or cashews
  • 1 garlic clove (more if you like)
  • 60ml extra virgin olive oil
  • juice from a lemon
  • 75g fresh grated hard Italian cheese (e.g. Parmesan or Grana Padano)
  • salt and pepper
  • 500g fresh spaghetti (or 400g dried spaghetti)
  • Handful of tomatoes (optional, e.g. slow roasted, sun-dried or fresh cherry tomatoes)

You will need

  • A food processor


  1. Place a large saucepan over a medium heat and fill with water from a recently boiled kettle. Add a generous amount of salt.
  2. Add 150g of chopped black kale (cavolo nero) to the saucepan and blanch for 2 minutes then remove using a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Squeeze out as much water from the kale as you can.
  3. Add 40g of nuts to a food processor and blitz until coarse then add a garlic clove, 60ml of extra virgin olive oil, the juice from a lemon and the blanched kale. Process until the ingredients start to resemble pesto then add 75g of grated hard cheese and process one more time. Taste the pesto then season with salt and pepper.
  4. Cook your chosen pasta (I used 500g of fresh spaghetti) in the water used to blanch the kale then, before you drain it, use a small cup or jug to reserve some of the pasta water.
  5. Combine the cooked pasta and tomatoes (if using) with the pesto, adding some of the reserved water to loosen the pasta if needed. Transfer to bowls, squeeze over a little lemon juice, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.