Green pasta is has become a total staple in our house. It all started with broccoli pesto pasta, which was followed by the great greens pasta with roasted tomatoes. Thanks to those two recipes making frequent appearances on our dinner table, the kids now literally come running (and sometimes screaming) when I tell them we are having green pasta for dinner. Here is yet another variation to add to our ever growing repertoire, this one with a kale, basil and sunflower seed pesto.

If you grew kale in your garden this year as we did, or if you are receiving it in your CSA boxes, this recipe is a great way to make use of some of it. A handful of basil adds a touch of brightness and helps to cut the slightly bitter flavor of the kale. I especially loved the nutty flavor from the sunflower seeds. The pesto keeps well refrigerated, so we enjoyed half with warm pasta for dinner one evening and then used the rest on pasta for the kids’ lunches later in the week.  And, speaking of school lunches, by popular demand I am doing a lunch-a-day feature on Instagram throughout the month of August. I’m sharing school lunch ideas most days as well as some work lunches scattered in. If you’re looking to get out of a lunch rut, especially where school lunches are concerned, this might help provide some inspiration. I hope you’ll follow along!


  • ½ cup raw sunflower seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, peel intact
  • 2 cups packed chopped kale leaves
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1½ oz. (¾ c.) Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for serving
  • ½ – 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 – ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb. pasta, such as linguine (I use whole wheat) 


  • 01

    In a medium skillet over medium heat, warm the sunflower seeds, stirring occasionally until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Return the pan to the burner. Place the garlic cloves in the pan and toast until lightly browned, turning as needed so all sides have been toasted.  Remove from the heat. Peel when cool.

  • 02

    In the bowl of a food processor, combine the kale, basil, sunflower seeds, toasted garlic, Parmesan and red pepper flakes. Pulse until finely ground, scraping down the bowl as needed. With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream through the feed tube until incorporated. Transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • 03

    Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain, reserving ¾ cup of the pasta water.

  • 04

    Return the pasta to the pot. Stir a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water to the pesto to loosen it, then stir the pesto into the pasta. Add the remaining reserved pasta water as needed to adjust consistency. If needed, season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • Kerry Cooks

    This looks so delicious, and so good for you! I love the flavour of sunflower seeds (ever since Mulder made them cool!)

  • Warm Vanilla Sugar

    Such a yummy pesto! I love meals like this since once the pesto is made, you can use it in so many fun ways!

  • Melissa Brooker

    OOH sounds great! I love both green pasta’s you mentioned in this post, so i have no doubt i will love this too!

    The school lunch feature sounds awesome Annie! I love seeing the lunches Catherine at weelicious packs for her kids! can’t wait to see yours!

  • annieseats

    Yes, she has lots of great ideas! Last year we started out in a major lunch rut because I was too busy with boards and work to make the lunches so Ben just made the same thing every day. Once I finally got through some of that and had more time, I used a lot of her ideas. She’s great!

  • Sarah Henke

    This looks awesome! I’ve been looking for ways to use up all of the kale that’s in my garden right now and I can’t wait to try this pesto!

  • i need to make some green pesto soon – pasta makes into my dinner table at least once a week.

  • Liz @ FloatingKitchen

    Love this twist on traditional pesto! Can’t wait to try it!

  • Joan

    Looks like a great way to use our bumper crop of kale! How long do you think the mixed pesto would last in the refrigerator?

  • Anne Jones

    Why are you sending candy and cookies with your kid’s school lunch every day? There is almost no proper fiber or protein there. You are setting a bad example (with the exception of the veggies you are adding). Chocolate and cookies is something that should never be seen in a lunch box except on special occasions.

  • annieseats

    I find it rather amusing that I should even need to answer a question like this, but I think the answer is rather obvious. They are my children and I will feed them as I see fit. I believe in the philosophy of everything in moderation and as such, I am happy to give them a small sweet treat at the end of their lunch.

    I would be interested to know if you have ever pondered what goes into most hot school lunches in our country or what I know is put into most average American lunch boxes. A lot of artificial junk, high on carbs and fat, low on nutrition. I feed my children for three meals a day so I know that, including these lunches, they get a balanced diet with mostly homemade food and ingredients that I control.

    But, because you are clearly a person who is looking for something to criticize, just keep moving on. I can assure you internet is FULL of material for you to judge from your high horse and comment sections everywhere are looking for more just like you.

  • annieseats

    I would think a few days or so, but most pestos freeze well and I think this one would as well.

  • Natalie

    This looks delicious! And I’m totally loving the Instagram series. Some of my favorite memories from childhood are the amazing lunches my mom used to make me. It was really important to her that we have a healthy, delicious lunch, and it was a great expression of her love that I remember to this day. And as a teacher, I see the “food” that our children are served at school every day…it’s pretty appalling. Anyway, your kids are very fortunate to have you–especially when you send them to school with MINI S’MORES! Genius. (Love your blog, btw! Just made your “Classic Mac n cheese” last night!)

  • annieseats

    Thank you Natalie! I appreciate it :) So glad you are enjoying the lunch series.

  • Amelia

    This looks so light and healthy! I would have never thought of adding kale. Part of me wants to make it now and top it off with some local shrimp then call it dinner!

  • I WISH I could get the.boy as excited about green pasta as your kids are! I made one batch where I think the garlic was bad so it tasted weird…and now he thinks he doesn’t like pesto. It’s a problem. But…I’ll happily eat this all on my own.

  • The homemade cookies Annie makes probably have better ingredients than most school lunches. Just saying.

  • Amanda Thompson Steier

    We picked three grocery sacks of kale and one of basil from our garden yesterday. I made six batches of this sans cheese and froze it. I like that there are sunflower seeds as my son has a nut allergy. I used roasted salted seeds and didn’t need to add additional salt. My daughter was sad we didn’t get to eat it for dinner tonight!

  • Lauren Ochoa

    Yes, this is a no troll zone. And a troll is exactly what that person is. Of all the food blogs I follow (and I follow ones that run the full gamut from vegan, vegetarian straight up to all inclusive eat-everything and then follow it with a kit Kat cake for dessert) This one is my favorite because you take such a wonderfully balanced approach to nutrition and you have evolved over time so I can tell you pay attention to current research and are learning every day and making small tweaks to improve your family’s nutrition.

  • annieseats

    Thank you so much Lauren. You know I love you :) It’s definitely true, our habits have majorly evolved over time. It’s one of the things I am most thankful for as a result of this blog!

  • Erin Case

    This was great, used Fusilli pasta instead and added some fresh tomatoes. Such a great late summer treat!

  • Erin Case

    As a teacher, I see how much of school lunch kids throw away because they won’t eat it. Great job sending your kid balanced food that they will eat! (I always the loved the dessert my mom included.)

  • annieseats

    Thanks Erin!

  • Sara Schultz

    Made this for dinner tonight and it was delicious! Excited to have leftovers for lunch all week.

  • Melissa Brooker

    I made this last night! the only thing i added was a touch of lemon juice. It was delicious, both my husband and i loved it! i made a double batch of the pesto so i could have some extra.