Now that our wood-fired pizza is up and running, we make pizza a lot. We fire up the oven often and make no fewer than a dozen pies at a time. When we first started making pizzas, I’d put out lots of toppings, but to simplify the process and keep us more creative, we’ve started coming up with a toppings theme each time.
Last week we made winter vegetable pizzas. We would use tomato sauce as a base for some of the pizzas, but our usual sunny basil pesto seemed at odds with brooding vegetables like Brussels sprouts, winter squash, and caramelized onions.
It was time to develop a winter pesto. For the basil and pine nuts, we subbed in kale and walnuts. For little a little cool weather flare we added fresh thyme and fennel seeds. I would have argued Parmesan cheese in this pesto was essential, but as I made it again yesterday, I thought the cheese muddied the fresh clean flavors of this winter pesto. So I made it again without the cheese, and I much preferred it.
For dinner last night I tossed the cheese-less version of this Kale-Walnut Pesto with chickpea pasta and pan-roasted Brussel sprouts. Before serving it, I sprinkled the dish with a bit of grated Parmesan. To our tastes, this pasta was perfect.
Kale-Walnut Pesto with Fennel and Thyme
Toasting the garlic along with the walnuts tames its potent raw flavor. Adding the fennel seeds and fresh time to the skillet the last couple of minutes brings out their flavor as well.
Straight out of the food processor, this pesto need a little time to calm down, so make sure to let it rest a bit before serving.
Just like its basil cousin, this pesto is perfect for topping pizza, tossing with pasta, and stirring into soups and cooked vegetables.
- Yield: About 1 1/2 cups 1x
1 cup walnuts
2 large whole garlic cloves
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
4 cups massaged kale
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and ground black pepper
Place walnuts and garlic in a medium skillet and toast over medium heat, shaking the pan often until fragrant 4 to 5 minutes. Add thyme and fennel. Continue to toast until nuts and fennel darken in color, a couple of minutes longer. Immediately turn into a food processor and process until ground. Add kale; process, once again, until ground. Add oil and pulse to combine. Add a sprinkling of salt and several grinds of pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Let stand for flavors to meld and develop, at least 30 minutes and up to a couple of hours. Can be refrigerated in an airtight container for several weeks or frozen for several months.