Creamy Kale Parmesan Pesto

I am surprised that we are able to grow kale in Hawaii, particularly in our area of Oahu which is fairly dry and hot in the summer. Last year, one lacinato kale plant survived the summer’s drought and exploded with growth thanks to the winter rains. It did so well, it became top heavy and we had to stake it in order to support the weight of the leaves.

Kale plant supported by stakes
Kale plant in our garden, weight supported by stakes

We have our favorite ways to use our kale harvest like Sausage, Kale, and Cauliflower Soup, but I’m always on the lookout for new ways of using our produce.

A different kind of pesto

One of my favorite sites to browse is Delicious Magazine (UK) and it was there that I came across a recipe for kale and pecorino pesto. I was immediately intrigued with the addition of mascarpone to the pesto. However, I did not want to go the luxe route (mascarpone, pine nuts, pecorino) and, without trying the original recipe, replaced ingredients with ones I already had (cream cheese, walnuts, parmesan). I know, I should have really given the original recipe a chance. However, I decided to use it as a guide instead.

I like a pesto that is not the Genovese (basil) pesto known by most Americans, including this arugula, basil, mint version. Kale creates a more vegetal rather than herbal quality to the pesto. It still has a bit of bite from the garlic and soft crunch from the walnuts. Cream cheese adds the creaminess factor and lemon (juice & zest) gives it a freshness.

Another difference from Genovese pesto is this version is thicker and creamier from the cream cheese – more of a spread than a sauce.

Creamy Kale Parmesan Pesto crostini

Serving ideas

My favorite way to use this pesto is as a spread. You can serve it as an appetizer with crusty baguette toasts. It also makes a fantastic sandwich spread.

Another option is to mix a few tablespoons of pesto with sour cream to make a dip for crudité.

And, just like Genovese pesto, you can add it to hot pasta (reserve a little of the pasta cooking water in case you need to thin out the pesto). Top with more Parmesan cheese for a great side dish. Or add some veggies, maybe some ham, to make a pesto primavera pasta.

Creamy Kale Parmesan Pesto pasta

How to store the pesto

Store the pesto in an airtight container. Top it with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent oxidization. When you’re ready to use it, let it sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes. The pesto is more solid because of the cream cheese and needs the extra time on the counter.

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Creamy Kale Parmesan Pesto

Creamy Kale Parmesan Pesto

  • Author: She’s Almost Always Hungry
  • Total Time: 23 minutes
  • Yield: 8 1x


The addition of cream cheese turns this pesto into a delicious spread for thick slices of rustic bread. But like other varieties, it is great mixed in with warm pasta. Or, mix it with sour cream for a cold dip for crudité.



4 ounces kale

4 ounces walnuts (about 1 cup walnut halves)

4 tablespoons olive oil

3 garlic cloves, crushed

4 ounces cream cheese

3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about ½ cup)

½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Salt and pepper, to taste


Remove tough stems of the kale and roughly chop. Set aside.

In a medium pan, toast the walnuts until they are golden brown and give off a toasty fragrance, about 5 minutes. Watch carefully and toss often so the walnuts don’t burn. Place on a plate to cool and set aside.

In the same pan (do not have to clean it), heat the olive oil. Add the garlic cloves and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Do not let the garlic cloves burn. Add the kale, cover and cook for 2-3 minutes, until it starts to wilt.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Taste and season well with salt and pepper.

If pesto is too thick, add a little more olive oil.


To store: Place in an airtight container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent the pesto from oxidizing and turning brown. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 8 minutes
  • Category: Spreads, Appetizers
  • Cuisine: American


  • Calories: 253.92
  • Sugar: 1.22 g.
  • Sodium: 247.24 g.
  • Fat: 24.14 g.
  • Saturated Fat: 6.51 g.
  • Carbohydrates: 4.37 g.
  • Fiber: 1.67 g.
  • Protein: 7.33 g.
  • Cholesterol: 21.55 mg.

Keywords: kale, walnuts, cream cheese, parmesan

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