This pesto shuffles around the standard template. Instead of basil, there is shiny, sultry Tuscan (or lacinato or dinosaur) kale. And instead of pine nuts, there are salty, roasted cashews. The result is a bright green, wintry answer to a summery staple. The fusilli's curlicues catch all the sauce—but feel free to use any loopy pasta that you have in the pantry. And don't drain that pasta water! Instead, use a slotted spoon to remove the noodles. The pesto wants (needs!) that water to become a creamy, emulsified sauce. —Emma Laperruque
Set a big pot of water over high heat. Add a few spoonfuls of kosher salt.
Meanwhile, make the pesto. Combine the kale, cashews, garlic, Parmesan, and lemon juice in a food processor. Pulse until finely chopped and well combined. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil. Season with salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Transfer to a big, heatproof bowl—this is what you’ll serve in.
When the water comes to a boil, add the pasta. Cook for about 8 minutes until al dente. Before you drain, fill a mug or glass with the salty pasta water. Drain the pasta. Add to the bowl with the pesto. Toss. Progressively add as much pasta water as needed to create a creamy, smooth sauce—it will continue to stiffen as it cools, so don’t be shy here. (I used about ⅔ cup.) Season again to taste.
Serve with more red pepper flakes and Parmesan on top.
Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.