I often find myself frustrated with how much stuff I put in my compost. I guess I should stop right there and say, at least I have a compost, right? The beautiful city of Portland has roadside pickup every week, making it so wonderfully easy to make more environmentally conscious choices. There aren’t a lot of cities that do that. Anyway, I know I could save some bones and carrot tops and onion tops and parsley stems for stock… But I just don’t do it. I mean, I do sometimes… But not as often as I should. And there’s one thing lately that I have always felt guilty after putting it in the compost: kale stems. Jonah and I eat a fair amount of kale – usually sautéed with butter and garlic or something like that, sometimes in a salad. But I always am frustrated at the toughness of the stems, and wish I could do more with them.
After a little research and looking around, I mostly found that people who do use their kale stems either sauté them with their kale, simply adding the stems first so they cook for longer, or put them in smoothies. I wasn’t really into either of these options, so I made myself a third one. With the all-in pesto in mind, and a container of pine nuts whining from my pantry, I got to work making some kale stem pesto. I wasn’t planning on sharing this pesto here, since the recipe is really improvised, but I got so many comments and questions about what it was when I posted pictures on my Instagram and Facebook, that I thought, why not? This pesto is certainly a product of whatever you’ve got around, which is generally my theory about pesto. Herbs are good, parmesan is good, and other than that, you can kind of go crazy. Nearly any kind of nut will work, any greens, and you can really play until you find some flavors that you like. I didn’t do any measuring here – mostly just throwing in handfuls of this or that – but below is an approximation of what I used.
The beautiful thing about pesto is that it can be a complete reflection of your kitchen: if you just went to the market and have some radish greens, use them. If you don’t have any pine nuts but plenty of pistachios or walnuts, use them. If it’s raining and you want something heartier, add more cheese.
We tossed our kale stem pesto with fresh spaghetti (you can find a recipe here) and topped it with sliced grape tomatoes, which added a really nice juicy brightness. I also like to make a thick piece of toast and slather it with fresh pesto.
Kale Stem Pesto
1 bunch of kale stems, plus probably the equivalent of 1 leaf of kale
1 cup spinach
1/4 cup parsley
~ 3/4 cup pine nuts
Fill a small pot halfway with water, salt well, and bring to a boil. Roughly chop kale stems into about 1/2 – 1 inch pieces. Add to boiling water, and cook until stems are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and cool.
In the bowl of a food processor (or blender), combine kale stems, a few small chunks of parmesan, about half the pine nuts, 2 cloves of peeled garlic, and a few glugs of olive oil. Pulse to combine. Add spinach, some parsley, and a hefty sprinkling of salt. The key here is to taste and add. If you want a little more spice, add another clove or two of garlic. If you want it creamier, more nuts, and olive oil. If you want it greener, add more spinach and parsley, or some fresh basil or chard if you’ve got some around.