Creamy Kale Pasta is a quick, easy, and nourishing vegetarian meal that comes together in less than 30 minutes. Toss your favorite pasta shape with garlicky kale, lemon zest, a pinch of red pepper flakes, and the easiest cream sauce for a truly delicious dinner.
Hands up if you love a quick and easy dinner 🙋🏻♀️
This one was born from discovering a fun new pasta shape (I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for a fun pasta shape!), having a bunch of kale in the fridge that needed some love, and quickly realizing I had everything on hand for a quick and easy cream sauce.
Hellllllo Creamy Kale Pasta!
If you’re a kale skeptic—or responsible for feeding a kale skeptic—I think pasta is the most perfect way to enjoy it. And this creamy kale pasta is especially irresistible.
Kale is merely a supporting player here, not the star of the show. I use Tuscan kale, too, which is less bitter than curly kale and thinner, so it doesn’t have that chewy texture some kale haters object to. Plus, we add lots and lots of additional flavors and textures—pungent garlic, spicy red pepper flakes, umami Parm, and bright lemon.
And then there’s the rich, creamy sauce. Ooh yes. This is what takes this dish to the next level—because if kale pasta is good, creamy kale pasta is even better!
- Fresh pasta --> I use Trofie, but wide noodles or anything that will hold the cream sauce well also works.
- Tuscan kale --> Also known as Lacinato kale. Discard the stems (they’re tough and unpleasant to eat), then roll the kale leaves and cut them into slices.
- Garlic --> Feel free to add more, but don’t add less!
- Butter and oil --> I forgot to include butter and olive oil in the ingredients shot. But we are using them in the recipe!
- Red pepper flakes --> You can add more or less to customize this to your family’s tastes.
- Heavy cream --> I don’t recommend trying to cut calories with half-and-half or whole milk. You’ll end up with a weak sauce, literally.
- Grated Parmesan or Parmesan-type cheese --> Basically, you want a hard cheese with a nutty, umami flavor.
- Lemon --> For a bright finishing touch.
- Salt and black pepper --> To taste.
And one more thing: in some of the photos this dish is topped with cubes of fried halloumi. I don't include that in the recipe, but should probably mention it since it's in the pics. And it's delicious!
How to Make Creamy Kale Pasta
Prep all of the ingredients before you start; stem the kale and slice it into ribbons, crush the garlic, and grate the cheese. Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions until it’s al dente, reserving a cup of the cooking water.
While the pasta cooks, heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter, olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes and cook for a minute or two, until the garlic has just started to brown.
Stir the kale into the pan and sauté, stirring frequently, until it begins to wilt.
Stir the heavy cream into the kale, then reduce the heat to medium.
Let the kale simmer in the cream for 2-3 minutes.
Add the drained pasta to the kale.
Stir in the lemon zest and Parmesan cheese.
Add a bit of pasta water, splash by splash, until the sauce reaches your desired consistency. (Two or three tablespoons is usually enough.)
Serve hot, with extra Parmesan and red pepper flakes for garnish.
Tips for Perfect Creamy Kale Pasta
Adjust if you’re using dried pasta
I use fresh Trofie here, which is a pasta shape I'm obsessed with. But you could use any pasta shape you like. I used 14 ounces of fresh pasta, so to substitute dried pasta you'll want to decrease the amount to 10 ounces of dried pasta.
Don’t forget to reserve the cooking liquid
I only remind you because I always forget to do this myself. The starches in the reserved pasta water help thicken the sauce, and the salt in the water adds flavor.
Have your ingredients ready to go
This is a recipe that moves quickly, so you need to have everything ready to go before you start cooking. You can’t pause to chop or measure!
Grate the Parmesan
Pre-grated Parmesan has ingredients added to it to keep it from sticking together in the bag, tub, or bottle. This also keeps the cheese from melting as smoothly as fresh. Freshly grated Parm will melt beautifully into your sauce, rather than creating a gritty texture.
How to Make This Creamy Kale Pasta Your Own
- Add some protein: Your favorite plant-based sausage or chicken would be excellent here, or garnish with Roasted Chickpeas. Toasted walnuts or pine nuts are also delicious with the flavors in this recipe.
- Swap the kale for chard: If you can’t find Tuscan kale and you’re not crazy about curly kale, a good substitute is chard. You can sauté the stems with the garlic or discard them.
- Up the veggie factor: Try sun-dried tomatoes for texture and big flavor, roasted red peppers, or sautéed zucchini.
- Make it vegan: For a dairy-free version, use full-fat coconut milk instead of heavy cream and your favorite plant-based butter.
Storing + Reheating Leftover Creamy Kale Pasta
This pasta dish is best enjoyed fresh, but if you do have leftovers, store them in an airtight storage container and refrigerate for up to 3 days.
To reheat the pasta, add a splash of water or broth to loosen up the sauce before microwaving or reheating on the stove.
You can also freeze leftover creamy kale pasta for up to 2 months. To reheat from frozen, let it thaw in the fridge overnight before reheating with a splash of water or vegetable broth.
Creamy Kale Pasta
- 14 oz fresh pasta shapes I use Trofie, but you can use your favourite.
- 1 medium bunch Tuscan kale de-stemmed and sliced into ribbons
- 2 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- Pinch red pepper flakes
- 1 ¼ cups heavy cream
- ½ cup grated Parmesan Or Parmesan-type cheese
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Start by washing, de-stemming, and slicing your kale into ribbons. Crush the garlic, grate the parmesan, and have everything lined up and ready to go because this comes together fast.1 medium bunch Tuscan kale, 2 cloves garlic, ½ cup grated Parmesan
- Set a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Salt well, and add your pasta shapes to it. Fresh pasta takes only a few minutes to cook, but if you're using dried you will need to plan for 8-12 minutes of cooking time.14 oz fresh pasta shapes
- When the pasta is al dente, scoop out 1 cup of pasta water and reserve for later. Then, drain the pasta and set aside.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter, olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Allow this to cook for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic has just barely started to brown.1 Tablespoon butter, 1 Tablespoon olive oil, Pinch red pepper flakes
- Add the kale ribbons to the garlic butter, and sauté, stirring frequently, until the kale begins to soften - about 2-3 minutes.1 medium bunch Tuscan kale
- Pour the heavy cream into the kale, and stir to combine well. Reduce the heat to medium, and let the kale simmer in the cream for 2-3 minutes.1 ¼ cups heavy cream
- Add the cooked pasta to the kale mixture, along with the lemon zest and Parmesan cheese. Stir to combine well.Zest of 1 lemon, ½ cup grated Parmesan
- Add a bit of pasta water, splash by splash, to loosen the sauce up until it has reached the desired consistency. I find that 2-3 Tablespoons is usually enough.
- Serve hot, with extra Parmesan and red pepper flakes for garnish.
- Nutrition values are an estimate only
- If you're using dried pasta rather than fresh, reduce the amount to 10 ounces before cooking.
- Don't forget to save your pasta water! We used it for loosing up the cream sauce, and since the pasta water is salted it adds flavor as well.