I’ve got a pasta recipe that’s a strong contender to become one of your new favorites, so get excited. I whipped up this Rigatoni With Brussels Sprouts, Kale Pesto, and Lemon on a recent weeknight as part of my recipe testing for the Plant-Based RE:SET, placed two bowls on the table in front of Adam and me, and then… silence. It was one of those moments when we were so swept away by the perfection of the dish, there simply were no words. All we could do was chew and swoon. Since then, we’ve already made it several times and even tried it with a few different ingredient tweaks (hello, cauliflower!)
I personally love pasta that packs a high vegetables-to-noodle ratio. Not only do the veggies add tons of flavor, nutrition, and interesting texture, but it’s a great way to get my pasta fix on a weeknight without feeling like I’m carb loading. I think that sometimes, pasta has a reputation for being “indulgent” when it actually can be a regular part of a really healthy diet, especially when treated as a canvas for loads of delicious veggies. I’ll continue my pasta campaign below (lol), but first, what makes this rigatoni with Brussels sprouts so delish?
For starters, the sprouts are cooked with lots of garlic and shallots until caramelized and crispy, just how I like them. Once you add the pasta, it all gets tossed with the most luscious, silky kale pesto, which is the sneakiest way to pack in so many nutrient-rich greens. (It’s my new secret weapon for converting kale haters.) The shower of salty parmesan and crunchy walnuts at the end is what takes this whole dish over the top.
Read on for everything you need to know about this Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Kale Pesto, and Lemon, and grab the recipe at the bottom of the page. And don’t forget to sign up for our free Plant-Based RE:SET! The full 5-day plant-based menu will drop in your inbox on January 21st.
Is Pasta Healthy?
One thing I’ve noticed when we travel to Italy is that everyone eats Italian food for every single meal. Like, we’re not going to sushi or grabbing Mexican food when we’re in Rome. And you know what’s funny? Even though I have eaten my way through Italy on numerous occasions, freely enjoying pasta, fresh mozzarella, gelato, and wine every day—I have never gained weight on any of those trips. How can that be?
Well, for one thing, I believe that when we’re fully present at our meals, enjoying the flavors of every bite the way they do in Italy, our bodies can metabolize and digest our food properly. When we slow down and truly savor, those fullness signals can reach our brains to let us know we’ve had enough and it’s time to put down our fork. We’ve taken such pleasure in the experience that we feel satisfied. Europeans, in general, are so much better at this than most Americans, and when I’m in Italy, I more easily fall into this mode of slowing down and savoring.
The 2022 U.S. News and World Report once again ranked the Mediterranean Diet as the healthiest diet in the world, citing benefits like weight loss, heart and brain health, cancer prevention, and warding off chronic disease. It includes healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, legumes, lean proteins, vegetables, and (hallelujah!!) pasta. It’s really less of a diet than it is a lifestyle, since staying physically active and gathering together with people you care about are key components of the plan.
One of my favorite aspects of the Mediterranean diet is that it doesn’t ban entire food groups which, for a food lover like me, is a balanced way to stay healthy without sacrificing a single ounce of my enjoyment in life. Pasta is meant to be enjoyed, in reasonable quantities, and it’s the perfect blank slate to get creative in the kitchen and incorporate all kinds of colorful, healthy, and seasonal ingredients.
How to Make This Rigatoni With Brussels Sprouts Gluten-Free
For this recipe, I used my favorite rigatoni, which is the Collezione Rigatoni from Barilla. It has that perfect al dente texture that almost makes it taste homemade, and gives the kale pesto something to grip onto so that it lightly coats each piece of pasta.
I know that many of you guys avoid gluten, so this recipe can easily be made gluten-free by swapping in a gluten-free pasta like Banza. They have a solid rigatoni, and I do love that it boasts 20 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber per serving, thanks to the fact that it’s made from chickpeas.
A Few Twists on This Recipe
One of the best things about vegetarian pasta is that it’s infinitely customizable. Here are a few substitution ideas:
- Swap the Brussels sprouts for cauliflower. Last week I wanted to make this pasta, but I didn’t have any Brussels sprouts on hand. That’s when I realized that just about any other cruciferous vegetable could get the job done nicely, especially that beautiful head of cauliflower I’d picked up at the farmer’s market. I cut it into florets that were about the same size as the rigatoni, and prepared them just like the Brussels.
- Instead of Rosemary, add any sturdy herb. Think fresh oregano, thyme, or sage… and if all you’ve got an hand is a jar of dried Italian seasoning, that works too—just add half the amount the recipe calls for.
- Try a different nut. I love the rich, almost creamy texture of walnuts, but this recipe would be great with chopped toasted almonds, hazelnuts, or even pine nuts! If you use a different nut as the final topping, I’d stick with that same nut when making the pesto, too.
- Add golden raisins. If you like a little sweetness in your pasta like I do, try adding a bonus ingredient of golden raisins that is such a delicious foil for the briny olives. Yum.
How to Double This Recipe to Feed a Crowd
Most pasta, this one included, are super simple to double for a crowd. The main factor to consider here is that you want to avoid crowding the pan when sautéeing your Brussels sprouts so that they caramelize and are crispy, instead of steaming. You have two options here:
- Sauté your double batch of sprouts in two batches, then add them all back into the pan with the pasta.
- OR, make things really easy on yourself by throwing the Brussels sprouts in a 450 degree F oven for about 25 minutes until golden brown, then toss them into a pan with your sautéed garlic and shallots. It’s a little different process, but more hands-off with a similar result.
Scroll on for the recipe for this Rigatoni with Brussels Sprouts, Kale Pesto, and Lemon, which is part of our Plant-Based RE:SET, a new 5-day meal plan coming to your inbox on January 21st! Packed with delicious breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes, this is a week’s worth of meals that’ll leave you feeling lighter, brighter, and energized. Sign up here!
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- ½ pound brussels sprouts, halved lengthwise
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 shallots, sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Red chili flakes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp Italian seasoning)
- 12 ounces rigatoni (or other tube-shaped pasta, like penne)
- 1/3 cup chopped green olives
- 1/3 cup kale pesto (recipe follows)
- 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- Optional toppings: grated parmesan and torn basil
- Bring a stockpot of water to a boil, and cook rigatoni according to package directions. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta water.
- Meanwhile, warm 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add brussels sprouts, garlic, and shallots. Sauté until brussels sprouts are cooked through and caramelized, 8 - 10 minutes. Season with salt and red chili flakes (to taste), then stir in rosemary.
- Add drained rigatoni to the skillet, along with olives, pasta water, and kale pesto. Toss, allowing sauce to fully coat the pasta.
- Transfer to bowls and top with another drizzle of olive oil, chopped walnuts, parmesan, and basil. Add a pinch of salt and eat!
- 3 cups kale, torn and ribs discarded
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (or sub 2 tablespoons parmesan if not making vegan)
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
- juice of 1 lemon or lime
- squeeze of honey
- 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
- In a large pot of boiling salted water, blanch the kale and garlic cloves for 3 minutes. Remove to ice water bath and let cool. Use your hands to squeeze some of the water from the kale, then add kale and garlic to blender, along w/ nutritional yeast, walnuts, lemon juice, honey, and olive oil. Pulse until smooth, adding some of the kale water as needed to thin. Add kosher salt to taste.
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