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A plate of food on a table, with Pasta and kale with breadcrumbs.

Orecchiette with Garlicky Kale and Breadcrumbs Recipe

Orecchiette with Garlicky Kale and Breadcrumbs;  a hearty, flavor-packed pasta ready in about 45 minutes. *Just about any pasta will work here, including gluten free! I like how the little orecchiette cup  the capers and breadcrumbs. This recipe is vegetarian, easily vegan and gluten free.
Course Dinner
Cuisine American, Vegetarian
Keyword Orecchiette Pasta Recipe, Pasta and Kale, Vegetarian Orecchiette
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4 Servings
Calories 588kcal
Author Traci York


  • 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. 


*Most plant butter is salted, and if this is the case in your choice of butter, leave the added salt out and salt the pasta at the end of cooking. 
**Fresh Breadcrumbs: Simply whirl several slices or chunks of bread - gluten free if needed (at least 4 oz/113g) in a food processor until they're broken down into crumbs. They're ready to toast in the recipe. Store any leftover crumbs in the freezer. Use gluten free if needed. 
***Parmesan Cheese: Look for vegetarian friendly Parmesan cheese (one that does not use rennet in production). Look for BelGioioso or Organic Valley. Both are vegetarian Parms.  For more information, check directly with your preferred cheese maker. 
While I've frozen this recipe and stored it in the fridge for a few days, it tastes best right off the stove. Store in a lidded container, in the refrigerator for up to three days. 
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetite 2017 Pasta Issue


Calories: 588kcal | Carbohydrates: 76g | Protein: 19g | Fat: 25g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 21mg | Sodium: 873mg | Potassium: 782mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 11595IU | Vitamin C: 151.5mg | Calcium: 315mg | Iron: 4.1mg