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!

  • Yield about 6-8 servings


  • 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.