This kale pesto pasta with lemony meatballs is the perfect healthy-ish dinner for any night go the week. With a fresh nutrient packed kale pesto, oven baked chicken or turkey meatballs tossed together with any long cut pasta you have on hand. Optionally dairy free, easy to make and ready to serve in just 30 minutes.
It’s hard to beat a good bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. This is a twist on the classic with a healthier kale pesto and those delicious spring-y meatballs made with leeks and lots of lemon. I love this meal because you can pretty much do everything while the meatballs bake. Get the pasta boiling, then make the pesto to have everything ready at the same time.
How to Make Baked Meatballs
I always to prefer to bake my meatballs for two reasons. Number one: you don’t need to worry about oil spattering everywhere and all you need is a sheet pan so cleanup is super quick. Number two: You don’t need to worry about the chicken or turkey meatballs sticking to the pan and falling apart.
The first thing you want to do is add the ground meat to a bowl along with with some very finely chopped leeks, lemon zest, chopped parsley, a bit of garlic and salt. Mix that up and form it into balls, each about 1 1/2-2 inches. My top tip for forming the meatballs is to pour oil on your hands. I even like to keep a little bowl next to me while I’m working to re-oil if needed. This helps keep the meatballs from sticking to your hands. Chicken and turkey also have relatively low fat contents so it also helps keep them moist in the oven.
Bake the meatballs for about 12-15 minutes on a well oiled sheet pan to get those crispy golden brown bottoms. To check if they’re ready, just cut one open and ensure they are no longer pink in the middle.
How to Make the Best Kale Pesto Pasta
Probably my favorite part about this dish, the kale pesto is super easy to make and packed with veggies. I like to get the meatballs in the oven and the pasta boiling on the stove before I start the pesto. This way, everything is ready at about the same time and can be served fresh.
To keep the kale pesto pasta dairy and nut free, I used sunflower seeds and a few tablespoons of nutritional yeast instead of parmesan. If you’re unfamiliar with nutritional yeast, it’s often referred to as “nootch” and has a distinct cheesy flavor. It’s also dairy free and super nutritious so I always like adding it to pestos in place of cheese. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand or prefer.
To make the pesto, start by blitzing the toasted sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast (or parmesan), garlic, lemon juice and olive oil in a food processor. Add in the kale and a small bunch of parsley and blend again. To thin things out, I add about a 1/4 cup of water. If it still seems too thick, add another tablespoon of oil or water until the desired consistency is reached.
Toss with your cooked pasta and serve with those lemony meatballs plus a little drizzle of olive oil. If you have any extra, this pesto is also great on sandwiches and served with pretty much any other type of meat or vegetable.
More Recipes to Try:
- Vegan spinach artichoke pasta
- Roasted red pepper meatball curry
- Toasted lemon pepper orzo with crispy chickpeas