Pasta Salad with Kale and Pesto

Pasta Salad with Kale and Pesto is a fast and easy summer meal that packs in the leafy greens! Use homemade pesto if you have it, or keep it simple with your favorite jarred pesto. Finish with a sprinkle of parmesan.

bowl of pasta salad with kale and pesto

bowl of pasta salad with kale and pesto

If you love pasta salads in the summer but also want to make sure you’re getting some vegetables, this is just the dish for you. Pasta salad with kale and pesto is a delicious classic, taken up a notch.

The slightly bitter bite from the kale plays off of the rich and herby sauce. Extra parmesan on top helps to make it super satisfying (and also feel a bit fancy!). 

Ingredients

Here’s the (super short!) list of ingredients you’ll need to make this summer dish.

pasta kale pesto and parmesan cheese in separate bowls

pasta kale pesto and parmesan cheese in separate bowls

Pasta 

Any short pasta will work here (think rotini, rigatoni, or shells). I love this shape because the little ridge holds on to sauces like pesto really well.

I wouldn’t recommend using a long pasta like spaghetti or fettuccini in pasta salads because it can easily clump together, especially after chilling.

If you want to level up the nutrition, you can also go for whole grain or even a chickpea pasta.

Pesto

A homemade pesto will take this dish over the top. Since there are so few ingredients, it’s even more important to focus on quality of each.

My herbs de Provence pesto is a fabulous choice!

Of course a classic pesto will work just fine too. And in a pinch, a 6-ounce jar of store bought pesto is a huge time-saver. Whole Foods 365 pesto and Delallo Foods pesto are both good options.

jar of pesto on a cutting board

jar of pesto on a cutting board

Parmesan Cheese

Make sure you opt for high-quality parmesan cheese. Look for a wedge in the cheese section of your grocery store and then use a box grater (or food processor!).

The rectangle opening on the side of a box grater will help you get those beautiful, imperfect shaved pieces!

Kale

The kale is wilted slightly to take away that unpleasant texture it has when raw.

Use lacinato, purple, curly, or even kale straight from the garden. The trick is to slice it thin (or chop it small) so it gets very evenly distributed in the pasta salad. You won’t be biting into any huge chunks this way. 

shredded kale on a cutting board with knife

shredded kale on a cutting board with knife

How to clean kale

Cleaning kale can sometimes be a hassle, and I prefer to use a salad spinner.

First fill with water and let the leaves soak, pushing them around with your hands. Then dump and spin to dry.

If you buy a bag of chopped kale that’s ready-to-eat, you won’t need to wash it. Just make sure to remove those huge stems before chopping!

kale in a salad spinner

kale in a salad spinner

How to make it: quick and easy!

This fresh summer pasta salad with kale and pesto comes together in just 20 minutes!

If you can boil water, you can make it. It’s as easy as cooking the noodles, tossing everything together, and dusting with some parmesan cheese. It’s looks gourmet but is so incredibly easy. Perfect for entertaining or a light lunch!

Tips for Making Better Pasta Salad

Who knew there was an actual technique to making pasta salad? Hear me out, because this is how you take it from good to great.

Cook Your Pasta Long Enough

Most hot pasta dishes will call for cooking pasta until “al denté” or with a bite since it will continue to cook in the hot sauce afterward. Since the pesto will go in room temperature or cold, you’ll want to make sure the pasta is completely cooked for this recipe. No one wants to bite into a cold crunchy noodle, right?

Reserve Starchy Cooking Water

Make sure the pesto really clings to the noodles by using a splash of starchy pasta water to toss it all together.

I like to put a liquid measuring cup underneath the strainer right away so I don’t forget and dump it all down the drain. This also helps prevent an overly dry pasta salad.

Season and Garnish

Don’t be afraid to season with additional salt and maybe even some red pepper flakes to really bring out the flavor and add some heat at the end.

Pasta salad should be seasoned at each step along the way, so be sure to salt the cooking water too. The pesto and parmesan will add salt too, so you may not need much more.

You can also add some finely chopped nuts (whatever is in you pesto!) for more substance and crunch. I think it adds a great aesthetic too. 

three small plates with pasta salad and red pepper flakes

three small plates with pasta salad and red pepper flakes

Do you love pesto as much as I do in the summer? Make a batch at the beginning of the week and you’ll be able to throw together this quick, healthy and flavorful pasta salad whenever the craving hits. 

More Simple Kale Recipes:

pasta salad with kale and pesto on a plate

pasta salad with kale and pesto on a plate

Pasta Salad with Kale and Pesto

Pasta Salad with Kale and Pesto is a fast and easy summer lunch that packs in the leafy greens! Use homemade pesto if you have it, or keep it simple with store-bought.

Course Lunch, Picnic, Salads
Keyword 20 minutes, summer recipes, vegetarian salad

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces pasta
  • 2 ounces kale (about one bunch) stems removed, thinly sliced
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese shaved or shredded
  • 6 ounces prepared pesto

Instructions

  • Cook pasta according to package directions.

  • Meanwhile, prep kale. Once pasta is finished cooking, drain (reserving some pasta water). Add kale to the empty pot and then dump the drained pasta over the top. Cover with lid and let rest for 5 minutes, or until kale is wilted and bright green.

  • Add the pesto to the pot with the pasta and kale plus a splash of pasta water, then toss well to coat.

  • Transfer to a serving bowl. Top with parmesan cheese.

Notes

  • I recommend using my herbs de Provence pesto in this dish. It’s like a classic basil pesto made better with the extra herbs and so delicious!
  • I like short pasta because it holds on to the sauce well, but just about any shape will work.

Photos by Leanne Ray at Healthyish Appetite.