North Coast Current

Preserved Home: Use collard or kale for great pesto

Collard greens or kale can make a successful substitute for fresh basil to make winter pesto. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

Collard greens or kale can make a successful substitute for fresh basil to make winter pesto. (Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem

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I grow basil every summer and enjoy making pesto with my bounty. For my family, basil pesto requires fresh tomatoes as a pasta topping. But in the winter, tomatoes aren’t so great. To change it up, I make winter pesto, using collard greens or kale. Stick with me – even my 6-year-old loves these “green noodles.”

Instead of tomatoes, I use butternut squash to top winter pesto. Let’s not forget the bacon and white beans. It’s a wonderful combination of textures and flavors. Crunchy, salty bacon, creamy white beans and sweet butternut squash, all tossed with the kale or collard-coated noodles. If you really want to go for it, make garlic breadcrumbs as a topping. It’s a feast for the senses and outrageously healthy – if you don’t count the bacon.

Collards and kale fight against cancer and are nutritional powerhouses, including vitamins A and C, fiber, and calcium. In fact, these greens, butternut squash and beans are all considered superfoods. My family begs me to make this dish.

I’ve made both kale and collard green pesto. I prefer kale pesto because it seems less watery, but they are both fantastic. Make sure to de-stem both kinds of greens before cooking. If you are tempted to throw the kale stems away, first tuck them in a jar of pickle juice and see how you like them. Cool the greens completely before pureeing – the texture won’t be good for a pesto if you pulse them hot.

I don’t use pine nuts in my pesto. They are $20 a pound even at Costco, and I don’t think they add much. I love toasted pine nuts on salad, but they don’t give a bang-for-your-buck in pesto.

What you absolutely cannot do without is fresh lemon juice. Don’t use bottled lemon juice in anything other than preserving. Canning recipes call for bottled lemon juice because of its acidity consistency, and there is a variation of such in fresh lemons. You must use fresh for this and, in my opinion, every non-canning recipe.

(Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

(Photo by Laura Woolfrey-Macklem)

This pesto freezes beautifully and accommodates 2 pounds of pasta. I successfully roasted butternut squash cubes and froze them, as well. In addition, to save money, I cook my own beans and freeze them into 1 ½ cup portions – the same amount in a can of beans. You only pay one-third of the price by cooking your own. This dish can be a quick dinner if you pull the pesto, squash and beans out of your freezer.

Serve these “green noodles” to your family and introduce them to the concept of eating collards and kale – they might be open to trying greens in other ways after this meal.

Greens Pesto with Bacon, Butternut and White Beans

  • 1 big bunch of kale or collard greens
  • Juice of 1 lemon (fresh, not bottled)
  • Salt to taste, which will probably equal at least 2 teaspoons
  • A few cracks of pepper
  • About 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves of garlic, 2 cut in half and 1 minced, divided
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • About 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 1 small butternut squash, cubed and roasted – about 3 cups (toss with olive oil and salt, roast at 425 degrees until done, about 20 minutes)
  • 6 pieces of cooked bacon
  • 1 ½ cups of white beans
  • 1 pound of pasta

Take ribs out of greens. Wash. Bring pot of water to boil and add greens. Cook about 25-30 minutes or longer, or until tender, but not mushy. You should be able to easily tear the greens but they should not fall apart. This is important – let the greens cool before processing. After your collards are cool, add to a food processor or blender. Add the rest of the ingredients through the basil, except for the olive oil

Start the food processor and right away start adding olive oil until you reach the desired consistency. You may not need all of the olive oil mentioned in the recipe. However, if you do and you feel it needs to be thinner, taste and see if more lemon juice is needed. Do not be afraid to add more salt or cheese.

Boil pasta in salted water until tender. Toss. Combine half of pesto mixture with pasta. Freeze other half of pesto. Add roasted butternut squash, crumble the bacon and add, and combine with white beans. Toss with extra cheese if desired.

Laura Woolfrey-Macklem is a former North County resident who produces the Preserved Home blog. Visit www.preservedhome.com. Send questions and comments to columnists@northcoastcurrent.com.

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Preserved Home: Use collard or kale for great pesto