Kale Pesto for Pasta


On Sunday, I climbed a mountain.

Perhaps that statement isn’t so impressive to Mainers who regularly rock climb, hike or otherwise scramble across rocks. I love the outdoorsy attitude of this state, and its people. BDN Columnist Aislinn Sarnacki’s 1-Minute Hikes series has inspired me to get out and try easy hikes around the state. But anything more challenging seemed too much for me. I don’t come from a family that did these things. And moreover, I wasn’t sure I ever could because of health limitations.

To me, climbing that mountain was everything.

Somewhere I have a list of things I want to do in my life. Some involve travel, others are centered around my career and my family. And then there are the ones that seem almost impossible: ones that require a physical ability I don’t possess.

Climbing a mountain was among them. Okay, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I hiked up a mountain, but either way the result is the same: it’s something I wasn’t sure I could ever do.

In conquering this life goal, I also felt like I conquered something inside that’s held me back for too long. For the last 29 years — since I was six years old — I have struggled with severe asthma. It’s stopped me from playing sports, held me back from running and prevented me from participating in recreational activities that I would otherwise enjoy.

And worse, it’s done so silently and invisibly. Unless you’ve seen me have an asthma attack, you wouldn’t know how much this impacts my everyday life. Between medications to keep the symptoms at bay, and carefully choosing activities to avoid asthma attacks, it plays a heavy role in everything I do.

With severe asthma, high exertion activities like moderate hiking is challenging. My lungs, even well-medicated, tighten with activity like that. It feels like I can’t catch my breath, like I will never get enough oxygen to fuel my body. The worse it gets, the more panic sets in and I worry that the medication won’t work or I will pass out from lack of oxygen.

I would be lying if I didn’t feel that when I was climbing that mountain this weekend. As my lungs tightened, my chest began to ache and I wondered if I could make it. Would I really climb to the top? And worse, I wondered what I would do if the attack was worse than I anticipated. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone — that’s good safety sense for me — and between my rescue inhaler and frequent breaks to catch my breath, I kept going.

Gorham Mountain Summit

And then, there I was. I stood at the summit, and stared out at the land around me. It was exhilarating. It was truly everything.

And having done it once, I can’t wait to try again. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines of life, when with careful planning and execution I can do anything.

Kale Pesto

Heck, I can even add kale to pesto and make a delicious dinner (how’s that for a transition to this recipe?)

Until a few years ago, kale was a dirty word at many kitchen tables.

Its earthy flavor and nutrient-rich profile has transformed it into a sought-after green that folks adore.

Count me among the kale-loving masses. Although, I am the first to admit that when it comes to kale, I am picky about varieties. Give me dinosaur kale any day. I will happily enjoy red Russian and tuscan kale too. But keep that vile curly kale far, far away from me. I don’t like the stuff or its ruffled edges.

But when it comes to a dish like this, where earthy kale combines with garlic, walnuts, parmesan, olive oil, salt and pepper to create a rich, earthy pesto that coats pasta and chicken alike, any kale will do.

What I love about this pesto is that it’s unexpected. Kale lends a different flavor profile to the dish than the classic basil version.

Try it in pasta with leftover grilled chicken. It’s a wonderful meal for cool Maine summer nights.

Kale Pesto Chicken Pasta
Serves: yields about 1 cup
  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed and discard
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts
  • ⅔ cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp salt, or more to taste
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as desired
  1. Combine the kale leaves, garlic, walnuts, parmesan and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely chopped. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until fully combined.
  2. Enjoy this with pasta. It's especially good with grilled chicken mixed in.


Sarah Walker Caron

About Sarah Walker Caron

Sarah Walker Caron is editor of Bangor Metro magazine and senior features editor for the Bangor Daily News. She is the author of "The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook," (Sept. 2018, Rockridge Press) and the co-author of "Grains as Mains: Modern Recipes Using Ancient Grains" (March 2015, DK). Her recipes have appeared in the BDN, Betty Crocker publications, Glamour.com and more. She also writes about food at www.sarahscucinabella.com.