This pasta with kale and garlicky breadcrumbs is a hearty, flavor-packed orecchiette pasta recipe ready in about 45 minutes. This recipe is vegetarian, and easily vegan and easily gluten free.
For the Love of Pasta
You’d hardly know it by the few pasta recipes I’ve shared on Vanilla And Bean, but I absolutely am a fan. Moderation is key. So when I do have pasta, I completely swan dive in. But of course, love including something green in it. In this case, it’s pasta with kale.
There’s no shortage of inspiration in Bon Appétit’s Pasta issue. I’ve been playing with and adapting several recipes to make them vegetarian and a few vegan. I find cauliflower an easy swap for things like shrimp and fish due to its tender texture. Anchovies make their way into pasta recipes as well, but I find capers to be a fabulous vegetarian and vegan stand in for that briny, umami flavor I’m after.
But it’s the breadcrumbs Bon Appétit highlighted in several recipes that gave me complete heart eyes. That salty-garlicky crunch sprinkled over saucy orecchiette pasta plus more on the side… Something so simple, how could I have overlooked these crunchy powerhouses of texture and flavor?
My Adaptations to this Orecchiette Pasta Recipe
For this orecchiette recipe, I changed a few things from Bon Appétit’s original recipe. I find some pasta recipes too heavy on pasta and not enough veggies. So I tend to modify in favor of veggies…
….but still with ample pasta.
From the original Bon Appétit recipe, I cut the amount of pasta and parmesan in half, but retained the full pound of kale (two bundles) and a cup of breadcrumbs. I also cut back on oil by 1 Tbs for toasting breadcrumbs, sub capers for anchovies and add a hearty squeeze of lemon just before serving.
I found the pasta/veggie ratio to be a good balance using these modifications, with plenty of breadcrumbs left for additional sprinkling.
Ingredients for this Pasta and Kale Recipe
Simple ingredients and rich flavors bring this kale pasta recipe together in about 45 minutes. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- Kale – I like dinosaur (aka Lacinato)
- Fresh Breadcrumbs – sourdough bread works beautifully here, or gluten free bread if needed
- Olive Oil + Butter – easily vegan with plant butter
- Capers – for a briny pop of flavor
- Red Pepper Flakes
- Orecchiette pasta – or other favorite pasta shape
- Grated Parmesan – vegetarian or vegan
How to Make this Orecchiette Recipe
While this recipe is simple enough to make, there’s several things going on, on the stove top, that will require a bit of multitasking. Here’s how to make it:
- First, start by preparing all the ingredients, putting a large pot of water on to boil.
- Second, toast the breadcrumbs on the stove-top. Use previously frozen or day old bread. If you can get your hands on sourdough, all the better!
- Third, once the water is up to a boil, blanch the kale, cool, squeeze out the water then chop.
Blanching serves several purposes here:
- Cleans and washes away pesky hidden dirt and debris.
- Destroys the enzymes that turn the veggies brown and mushy when cooking longer.
- Helps retain its bright green color and nutrients.
- Next, cook the pasta and make the sauce.
- Last, mix all the components together with pasta water, breadcrumbs, and parmesan.
The Sauce (!!)
The sauce is incredibly fragrant and simply sublime. It starts with butter and olive oil, then, capers and pepper flakes are sprinkled in. Using the back of a heat proof jar, gently mash the capers until the sauce begins to thicken (take in a deep breath of deliciousness). During the last few minutes of cooking, garlic is added, the blanched kale, and a bit of water.
At the end of cooking, all the components are tossed together; pasta, kale, sauce, pasta water, parmesan and breadcrumbs.
A Few Recipe Notes:
- Use whatever pasta shape you have on hand, gluten free if needed. My favorite gluten free pasta is Jovial’s Brown Rice Pasta. With this kale pasta recipe, I like brown rice penne, shells or capellini.
- Pasta is best enjoyed fresh. I find with freezing or storing overnight, while it still tastes good, the kale loses it’s bright green color.
- Be sure to retain the pasta cooking water, so it can be used in the sauce. It helps leave a beautiful glossy coat on the pasta and flavor the recipe.
- Make it Vegan: Two easy swaps… opt for plant butter and vegan Parm. I like homemade or for in store, look for Follow Your Heart.
- Parmesan Cheese: Look for vegetarian friendly Parmesan cheese (one that does not use rennet in production). BelGioioso vegetarian Parm can be hard to find, but Organic Valley is more widely available and Stella offers a vegetarian friendly Parm. I found this comprehensive list that shows brands who produce vegetarian friendly parmesan cheese. For more information, check directly with your preferred cheese maker.
Orecchiette with Garlicky Kale and Breadcrumbs
- 1 lb (450g) Lacinato Kale aka dinosaur kale - about 2 bunches, destemed* (see note)
- 1/2 tsp Sea Salt divided, + more for pasta water. Leave out for vegan option. *
- 1 C (75g) Fresh Breadcrumbs **see note
- 4 Tbs Olive Oil Divided
- 3 Cloves of Garlic , microplaned, about 2 tsp
- 2 Tbs Unsalted Butter , use vegan butter for vegan option
- 4 Tbs Capers drained
- 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
- 8 oz (225g) Pasta , I like orecchiette or penne, gluten free if needed
- 1/4 C (36g) Grated Parmesan *** (see note) plus more for serving, leave out for vegan option
- 1 Lemon
- Put a large stock pot of water on to bring to a boil. Once boiling, working in two batches, blanch the kale for 4 minutes. Remove from the pot with tongs, setting it aside on a sheet pan to cool. Reserve the water for cooking the pasta. Once the kale is cool, press out as much water as possible and chop into bite size pieces. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, mix fresh breadcrumbs with 2 Tbs of olive oil and 1/4 tsp salt in a large 10" (25cm) skillet (with high sides - 2 1/2" to 3" (6cm)). Toast breadcrumbs on medium-low for about 5 minutes tossing and moving the breadcrumbs around in the pan two or three times. Add 1/2 the garlic and stir, pressing the garlic in, and moving the breadcrumbs around the pan for another 2-3 minutes or until golden and crunchy. Season with a few grinds of pepper. Transfer to paper towels on a plate to soak up any oil. Set aside. Wipe out the pan (you'll use it to make the sauce) and set aside.
- Bring the kale water back to a boil, adding more water if needed, add a heavy pinch of salt and cook the pasta according to package directions or until al dente. If using orecchiette, the little pieces of pasta tend to stick together. Stir several times while cooking to separate the spooners! Drain the pasta, reserving at least 2 C (470g) of pasta water.
- Meanwhile, in the same skillet used to toast the breadcrumbs, heat the butter and remaining 2 Tbs of olive oil on medium-low until melted. Add capers and pepper flakes. Mash the capers, gently (I use the bottom of a heat proof jar - like a canning jar). Cook, mashing for about 2 minutes. The sauce will begin to thicken. Add the remaining garlic, cooking another minute, stirring. Add the kale, 1/4 tsp of salt and 1/2 C (118g) of water to the caper mixture, stirring 2-3 minutes to heat through.
- To Assemble: Add the drained pasta to the kale mixture plus about 1/2 C (118g) of pasta water, stirring, adding more pasta water until the pasta is glossy. I add about 1 1/2 C total, but if you feel the pasta could use more, add about 1/4 C more at a time. Stir in the parmesan and breadcrumbs, and squeeze 1/2 a lemon over the pasta. Stir. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve immediately with extra breadcrumbs, lemon wedges, fresh ground black pepper and parmesan for sprinkling on the side.