I don't know about you, but I am always in need of something quick during the week. This light and easy sun dried tomato and kale pasta dish (meatless) is weeknight dinner perfection. This dish is incredibly simple to make with ingredients largely found in your pantry and easily adaptable to what you have on hand. Tossed with a good dose of olive oil and lemon, this kid-friendly dinner can be whipped up in less than 30 minutes.
We love quick pasta dishes on weekdays. With 5-7 mouths to feed on any given weeknight and school, work and sports, weeknight dinners can often be rushed and all over the place. And once in a while it is good to go meatless and have a dish packed with lots veggies.
Like my saucy udon recipe, sun dried tomato and kale pasta comes together quick and is something all my kids love. It's easy adaptability to whatever greens you have on hand makes it even better for a quick weeknight dinner pleaser.
This sun dried tomato and kale pasta dish is really a complete dinner on it's own. And with just a few simple ingredients it really does come together in less than 30 minutes. Heres's what you need:
- Orecchiette pasta. If you don't have that or want to use something else, by all means go for it. But I am a person who thinks pasta size and shape matters in a dish, so I recommend something similar to orecchiette.
- Kale, lots of it. You are going to look at the measurements and be like ,'wtf,' that is way too much kale. It's really not, it cooks down so much, like spinach. Speaking of spinach, use it if you prefer it to kale. And I mean, kale is a super food packed with all kinds of good things, so might as well eat a ton.
- Sun dried tomatoes and roasted tomatoes. So I use both because I think it gives good texture and extra tomato sweetness is never a bad thing in my book. But you can use only sun dried if you prefer.
- Garlic, a good amount. I have a trick that you can take or leave, but I am putting it here and not in the recipe, as I am aware not everybody has time for this or has it sitting around...roasted garlic. It has a softer, sweeter flavor. And when the garlic is main flavor profile (not an accent) as in this dish, less sharp is nice. Now do not get me wrong, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO USE ROASTED GARLIC. I don't always, in fact, I probably don't use it as often as I use raw minced garlic. But when I roast a head or two and have it in the fridge, I will always use the roasted in this dish, it is just more refined (or something like that.
- Lemon zest and juice. This dish is heavy on olive oil and screams for some acid, and nothing beats a good amount of lemon juice and the overall brightness that lemon zest gives.
- A good quality olive oil. I am calling this dish light and easy sun dried tomato and kale pasta because it has no heavy cream or anything weighing it down. And since the olive oil (and a little bit of pasta cooking water) are what give it a sort of 'sauciness,' don't skimp on the olive oil and don't substitute. I have two olive oils, one for cooking and one for finishing. The finishing olive oil is much more expensive, but you use it sparingly as it is much stronger in flavor. You want to taste that in every bite. But again, use what you have, just make sure it is an olive oil.
- Pasta cooking water. This is important and one thing you do not want to forget. Pasta water is seasoned with the salt you add to it, and is starchy from cooking the pasta in it. Adding a bit of this to dish will thicken it a bit and give a rich, more luscious texture. It will emulsify with the olive oil and help to create a bit of sauce.
- Red pepper flakes. Cause every dish needs some spicy.
The recipe is meatless but you can easily amp up the protein. Add some chicken, Italian sausage or even some shrimp.
What is the best pasta shape to use?
While I do think you should pick what is best for you (you're the one eating it), I have some thought on that and why I think orecchiette or something similar is the best pasta shape to use. Here's just a few things to consider:
- This dish really has no sauce. It is basically lightly dressed with olive oil, garlic and veggies. We are not making a tomato sauce, or a sauce full of meat or an alfredo here. Meaning ridged or hollow shapes like penne rigate, or bucatini would not work well here.
- There is a lot of wilted vegetable in this dish. I mean, when I finally shut the hell up and you get to the recipe, you'll see the large amount of kale greens that will wilt. Trying to twirl up a long noodle with wilted greens clinging to it sounds annoying, so I don't think a spaghetti or fettucine would work great here either.
- Small shells would work. Similar to orecchiette small shells are a great options. Something petite and kind of dainty. The orecchiette so very nicely holds tiny pools of that delicious olive oil. It's the perfect shape to me.
But like I said, pasta shape is subjective and I know some people have very strong opinions on this - which I would love to hear - so use what you like and take or leave my two cents.
Ingredient swaps and variations
Quick weeknight dinners should always be easily adaptable. That's what makes them so great. And this pasta recipe is just that, here's some ideas:
- Add a protein. While this is a meatless pasta recipe, you could totally bulk it up by adding Italian sausage or chicken. Even some chicken meatballs would be good in this dish.
- Swap out your kale. Don't have any kale? no problem. Greens are super versatile and easily substituted. Use spinach instead, or mustard green or a mix of greens.
- Add a little heavy cream. While we prefer this lighter as an olive oil, meatless dinner, adding a touch of cream definitely elevates it and makes for a richer dish. No one ever said no to that.
- Add additional veggies. Make this even more vegetable heavy by adding tenderstem broccoli (broccolini), regular broccoli, shaved carrots or even brussel sprouts. ALl of these lightly sauteed are great additions. And a great way to use up leftover veggies.
- Add more cheese. While a good sprinkling of parmesan is all this gets in our house, this would be great with some fresh mozzarella too.
Tip for success
Few tips that really make sun dried tomato and kale pasta stand out, even as a weeknight dinner:
- Make sure to reserve that pasta water. Before you drain the pasta, simply take a coffee cup and scoop out a cup of it to hold for making the sauce. This is a pro tip for many pasta sauces, helping to create an emulsified creamier sauce without adding a bunch of cream.
- Don't over cook the pasta. Definitely cook it al dente. It will continue to cook a bit in the hot veggies and sauce.
- Use good ingredients. A dish like this with so few ingredients is definitely made better using a nice olive oil and good parmesan cheese.
Whatever you do, you are going to love this sun dried tomato and kale pasta, it is light, bright and a refreshing break from the heavy sauces of winter.
Other great ideas for a weeknight dinner
Check out these quick and delicious ideas:
- pasta pot
- 1 ib kale chopped, or a 1-pound bag of chopped kale
- ½ cup sun dried tomatoes julienned
- ½ cup roasted tomatoes see link above if you are unsure how to make these
- 4 cloves garlic crushed; or five cloves of roasted garlic smashed (it will be so soft, it will smash like butter)
- ¼ cup olive oil for cooking
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes use your judgement, if you don't like spicy, then reduce
- 1 lemon zest and juice
- 1 pound orecchiette pasta cooked in salted water, al dente
- ½ cup pasta water after cooking pasta
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoon olive oil for finishing the dish
- 2 tablespoon parmesan cheese
- Cook the pasta in a pot of SALTED boiling water until al dente.
- In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the ¼ cup of olive oil. Add the kale to the pan and season with salt. Cook a few minutes until it begins to wilt and shrink in size. You may have to add the kale in batches, depending on the size of your pan.
- When the kale is wilted down to about half it's original size, add the red pepper flakes, both tomatoes and the garlic, season with a little more salt (if you think it needs it) and pepper. Cook about 7 more minutes until the kale continues to cook down and some of the water it gives off evaporates. Add the lemon zest and the cooked pasta. Stir to incorporate.
- Here is where you will begin to add the pasta water a little bit at a time. If you like a bit more liquid then use the entire ½ cup, if you prefer a drier pasta dish with a more olive oil kind of glaze, just use ¼ cup. Continue cooking another couple minutes to incorporate everything together. Remove from heat and toss in the lemon juice and stir together.
- Plate to serve and drizzle with a finishing two tablespoon more of olive oil and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.