A use for kale stems, other stems? Pesto!

Use up stems from kale and other greens by making a stem pesto like this one

I’d like to start a movement called “Save the Stems!” As long as they aren't the woody variety,* stems can be so wildly versatile and are an excellent way to stretch your leafy greens and make the most of every nutritious square inch. One of my favorite things to do with them is to make pesto.

Kale stems might seem tough, but a quick blanch makes them blender ready (see below for instructions). Add in any other stems (swiss chard, mint, cilantro, parsley, anything else) and the flavors start to get that much more complex and beautiful. Once you're on your merry way making pesto, take a look around your fridge for anything else that might need using up—stray veggies, cheese or nuts, perhaps? They can all help round out your pasta dish. Before long you'll have a cleaned-out fridge and a fancy-looking dinner on the table.

The results of this recipe will vary widely depending on what you start with, but the final product will always be delicious. The rendition pictured above was made with swiss chard stems (among others), resulting in the lovely purple-red hue.

Stem Pesto


For pesto:

Stems: They might come from kale, chard, cilantro, basil, mint or a combination of sources.

Garlic: One pod.

Roasted nuts (optional): I like to use roasted walnuts. Or, you can keep the nuts out of the pesto and sprinkle them on the pasta when you’re done.

Cheese: You can put cheese in the pesto or apply it separately. I’ve always done it separately, but a nice parm would be delicious in the pesto itself.

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

For pasta:

Pasta: of any size, shape or color

Cheese: for topping (I used goat cheese in the picture here; a gruyere or parmesan would be delicious too)

Roasted nuts: for topping (I like roasted walnuts)

Veggies: whatever you have that sounds good! Tomatoes? Corn? Sauted pepper? Peas?


1. If using nuts, roast them. I roast walnuts or pecans in the oven at 350 for 5 to 10 minutes. Check and stir frequently to avoid burning. Sliced almonds tend to burn quickly in the oven, so I toast those on the stove top, stirring often.

2. Blanch hardier stems (i.e. kale and chard) first. To do this, add the stems to boiling water, wait for the water to return to a boil and then leave them in the water for about 2 minutes. Blanching should be done for kale and chard, but not softer stems like cilantro, basil or mint.

3. Roughly chop the stems and the garlic (only into pieces small enough to facilitate easier blending).

4. Combine garlic, stems, salt, pepper, nuts (if using), cheese (if using), and a medium pour of olive oil in a food processor.

5. Blend until smooth, adding oil, salt and pepper to taste.

6. Serve over pasta and veggies, sprinkle with nuts and cheese if they aren’t already in the pesto itself.

*Which isn't to discount woody stems, like those from rosemary. Those can make great skewers for kebabs! More on that later.

This stem pesto is a blend of cilantro and kale stems and onion. It's topped with leftover goat cheese and roasted walnuts.

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