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July 22, 2014

Jumbo Pasta Shells with Kale Pesto

The Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations by Kim O'Donnel

  • For a pasta change of pace, try these jumbo shells with white beans and kale pesto. Clare Barboza

Serves 6

Beans and shells
1 1/4 cups (285g) dried white beans (or two 15-ounce cans (800g) of beans)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
3 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
One 12-ounce box (340g) jumbo pasta shells
3/4-1 cup (170g - 225g) kale pesto
Zest of 2 lemons
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup (60g) faux parmesan (optional)

Kale pesto
4 cups (900ml) water
1-1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups (900g) lacinato (aka dinosaur or Tuscan) kale, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup (60g) unsalted walnuts, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup (340ml) olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparing the beans
If not using canned beans, place the uncooked beans in a bowl, cover them with about 3 inches of water and soak them for at least 4 hours.

Drain the beans and transfer them to a medium or large pot fitted with a lid, and cover the beans with at least 6 cups (1,350ml) of water. (You're looking for a few inches of water above the beans.) Add the garlic and bring the water to a boil. Cook the beans at a hard boil for 5 minutes. Cover, lower the heat and continue cooking the beans at a gentle simmer.

At minute 20, stir in 1 teaspoon of the salt.

At minute 45, check the beans for doneness. Cook in 10-minute increments until the beans are tender to the bite, keeping in mind that cooking times may vary, depending on the age of the beans.

Transfer the beans to a bowl, along with about half the cooking liquid.

Preparing the pesto and the shells
Meanwhile, bring 4 cups (900ml) of water to a boil in a medium pot, add 1 teaspoon of salt and add the kale.

Cook the kale uncovered until it is tender, about 10 minutes. Drain the kale under cold running water. With your hands, squeeze as much water out of the kale as possible; you'll end up with a green ball about the size of a tennis ball.

In a blender or food processor, combine the walnuts and garlic, and whiz until pulverized and well-mixed.

Add the kale and process the mixture until it is well-blended; it may even look a little dry. Pour in the oil and blend some more. The mixture should be glistening and will have a consistency that is somewhat textured, somewhat loose.

Salt to taste, transfer the pesto into a small bowl, and stir in the black pepper.

To cook the shells, bring 6 cups (1,350ml) of water to a boil in a medium or large pot fitted with a lid, and add the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook the shells for 14 minutes at a moderate boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and let the shells cook passively for 7 minutes.

Remove the shells from the water with a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs, checking for lingering water, and transfer them to a medium bowl.

Add 1/2 cup (115g) of the kale pesto and gently stir to completely coat the shells. Dust the shells with 1/4 cup (60g) of the faux parmesan (if using), followed by half of the lemon zest and black pepper, to your liking.

When ready to serve, gently heat the beans over low heat in a saucepan or in a microwave.

Place five or six shells on each plate (or in shallow bowls), and top each serving of shells with 1/2 cup (115g) of beans, followed by 2 tablespoons of pesto and a sprinkling of lemon zest. Serve hot.


  • You can use canned beans instead of dried beans, but dried beans are preferable because their texture is so much meatier and they sop up the pesto a lot better than their canned counterparts.
  • In warmer climates, soak the beans in the refrigerator to avoid sprouting or fermentation.
  • You can make both the pesto and beans in advance, and then make the shells just before you're ready to sit down.
  • When shells are boiled, then passively cooked off the heat in their cooking water, they turn out tender without tearing—a perfect centerpiece for the pesto and white beans. (Do this rather than following the cooking instructions on the pasta package, which are specifically designed for baked stuffed shells.)
  • To prepare the kale, grab the thick fibrous stem running through the middle and simply pull off the leafy part. You can also run a knife along the middle and trim the leaf away from the stem.

(Recipe adapted from The Meat Lover's Meatless Celebrations by Kim O'Donnel.)


All figures are per serving (assumes 6 servings).

Calories: 536
Fat: 24 g 
Carbs: 148 g
Fiber: 9 g
Protein: 15 g
Sodium: 472 mg