Pesto of Greens

greens pesto with ingredients

I’ve adapted this recipe slightly from the one printed in the paper because I’ve not yet made it with the original star ingredient: lacinato/dinosaur kale. Instead I’ve made it with all chard, all collards, and a combination of chard, collards, and mustard greens. All were equally delicious. Melissa Clark’s original recipe paired the pesto with cubes of roasted butternut squash and penne pasta. A masterful combination. When you make the pasta and grate fresh Parmesan over your plate, the dish sings. I love it so much, in less than a month, I’ve made my third batch. When I made it the first time, the confirmed no-greens-for-me contingent all came back for seconds.

Makes about 2 cups, enough for 2 pounds of pasta


  • 1 bunch (about 12 ounces) bitter greens such as dinosaur kale, chard, collards, spigariello, mustard greens, or a combination
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup (75 grams) toasted pine nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Freshly grated zest of 1 large Meyer lemon
  • Fresh Meyer lemon juice to taste
  • Good pinch chili flake, to taste (optional)
  •  About 1/2 cup (75 grams) extra-virgin olive oil


  1. Cut the stems out of the greens and then wash them well. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and add salt. Add the greens and stir them so they stay submerged. Cook them briefly, just until they wilt a bit and change color. Timing will depend on the green you use: chard may need no longer than 15 seconds, kale perhaps 30, and collard greens about a minute.
  2. Immediately drain the greens and run under cold water to stop the cooking. Squeeze out excess water between your hands. To get them really dry, wrap them in a tea towel and twist them dry. But if you squeeze the greens pretty hard between your hands, you can skip the tea towel business.
  3. Rough chop the greens and put them in a food processor with the pine nuts, garlic, lemon zest, chili flake (if using), and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Process until the greens are well chopped.
  4. Add about half the olive oil and process until smooth and the pesto turns a bright green (it does this as the puree gets smoother). Add more oil until you have a fairly thick but not stiff puree. Taste for seasoning, adding lemon juice to taste (the juice of about 1/2 large Meyer lemon should do it), salt, pepper, and chili flake, if using.
  5. Toss the pesto with hot pasta and roasted butternut squash or turn into clean containers and refrigerate for up to several days or freeze.

Quick Notes

You can make the pesto from just about any winter green except red chard. Flavor is not the problem, it’s the color. This pesto is a lovely jewel green, but not when you use red chard.

Make plenty and freeze some in ice cube trays so you can stir it into bean soups or barley salads as well as the roasted winter squash-and-pasta combination.

I do prefer Meyer lemon here. Its sweet lemon flavor is a better match for the bitterness of the greens.


Try roasted garlic instead of raw garlic.

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Earlier tonight I cooked the cabbage with some tofu and
vegetables and made some rice and it was good! Thanks for giving me
more confidence in the kitchen!

-Jackie Kramer SF

About Penni

Over 30 years as a food and wine professional, writer, and editor.

Cookbook author including:
'The Tra Vigne Cookbook' for Michael Chiarello,
'The Basque Kitchen' for Gerald Hirigoyen
and 'BurgerBar' for Hubert Keller.

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