A simple smooth and flavorful sauce coats long pasta strands and braised kale topped with crispy pieces of bacon in this amazing Simple Kale Pasta with Bacon. This is an easy weeknight meal you and your family will love!
In fact, this Simple Kale Pasta with Bacon is my daughter’s favorite dinner ever and pretty much the only thing she requests on a regular basis, as in every single week. Surprisingly, the more kale I add, the more she likes it. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorites, too. Our whole family loves it and we never have leftovers, even when I double the recipe.
I guess that’s the recipe’s one downfall – no leftovers. Every mom loves leftovers! 🙂
For all you kale-doubters out there, you must try this version. We all know that kale is a powerhouse of nutrition, but its bitterness leaves some people with a bad taste in their mouths. Literally. This dish is different – the bitterness is tamed by the cooking method and balanced by smoky bacon, a hint of garlic, and just enough creamy cheese to melt into a silky sauce. It’s a must-try dish for everyone!
I first made a version of this pasta dish that I found in Martha Stewart’s cookbook, Fresh Flavor Fast. It was good, but I needed to make it my own! Over the years, I have adjusted, tweaked, and made a dozen different versions. This is the version I like best.
The Key to the BEST Kale Pasta
Fresh kale is cooked down with some bacon, garlic, red pepper flakes, and veggie broth until it’s nice and tender. This braise softens the bitterness of the greens and adds a ton of flavor. Create the sauce by adding some freshly-grated cheese and some of the pasta water. It becomes silky and smooth, glistening and clinging to every strand of the pasta so that every bite becomes the perfect bite.
You can easily make this a vegan dish by omitting the bacon and cheese, using olive oil to cook the garlic and kale, and adding both smoked paprika and nutritional yeast at the end. The smoked paprika replaces the smokiness of the bacon and the nutritional yeast adds just the right amount of cheesy flavor. Be sure to use vegan pasta and broth, too.
If you aren’t going the vegan route, start this dish by cooking your bacon in a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid. I use this Le Crueset 13-inch skillet with high sides and a lid. You won’t use the lid now, but you will need it when you cook the kale in that same skillet, so have it handy.
Here’s a helpful trick for prepping bacon when you are going to cook and crumble it fo ra recipe! Store your package of bacon (not the lean kind) in the freezer and when you need some for a recipe like this, pull out that package and cut across the frozen bacon strips. There is no need to thaw it first or separate the strips. Each 1/4-inch cut equals 1 strip of bacon. The fat in the bacon keeps it from freezing too hard, so you should be able to cut it easily and you immediately have smaller pieces that cook more quickly and separate easily as they brown.
Cook the bacon over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the pieces are crispy and the fat has rendered. When they are browned, remove them from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.
Keep 1-2 tablespoons of the bacon fat that has rendered in the pan and save the rest in a small jar in the refrigerator. It will keep for several months and you can use it to add flavor to any number of things!
While the bacon cooks, put your water on to boil in preparation for cooking your pasta. I like to use linguini or fettuccini, but really any long pasta will be wonderful here. Whole wheat pasta is great, too!
Salt the water and drop your pasta so that it cooks at the same time as the kale, since both take about 10 minutes. If you time it right, the pasta will be done as soon as you need to combine everything.
Don’t forget to save a cup of the pasta cooking water! You will need that starchy water to make your sauce come together.
Garlic and Kale
Once you’ve cooked your bacon, place your pan over low heat with your 1-2 tablespoons of bacon fat. Add your thinly sliced garlic and red pepper flakes, then cook until the garlic is fragrant and starting to brown. Watch it carefully! Garlic can burn quickly and we definitely do not want that flavor in our pasta! The red pepper flakes are optional, but add a nice little kick of heat and flavor to this Simple Kale Pasta with Bacon recipe. You can adjust the amount to suit you and your family.
When the garlic is fragrant and golden, add about half of your kale. Sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, then use tongs to move it around, flipping it over to give every bit of it a touch of heat. When it has wilted slightly, add the rest of your kale in the same way – sprinkling with some salt and pepper, then using tongs to move it around.
It should only take a few minutes to wilt all of the kale. When that happens, add your veggie broth and immediately cover the pan. Turn the heat to low and cook, covered, for 10 minutes.
Finish Your Simple Kale Pasta
At the end of that 10 minutes of cooking time, your kale should be very tender and it will all smell fantastic. Breath it in – it will make you hungry! If there is still a lot of liquid in the bottom of the pan, cook uncovered a bit longer to allow some of it to evaporate.
Your pasta should be ready, too. Using your tongs, transfer the noodles from their water into the pan with the kale. Sprinkle in your cheese, scattering it evenly around the pan, then add about 1/3 cup of the pasta water and stir it together.
You’re looking for a sauce that glistens and lightly coats the pasta and greens without pooling too much at the bottom of the pan. If your pasta looks dry, add a little more of the pasta water and stir again. Keep adding the pasta water a little at a time until you have the consistency you want.
Place it all in a large serving bowl and top with the bacon and a little more grated cheese.
This dish will pair wonderfully with any number of desserts. Try our Triple Chocolate Chip Cookies or Dark Chocolate Pecan Cookies. Or wow your family or guests with our Lemon Bundt Cake with Lemon Glaze or Simple Fresh Strawberry Pie. You really can’t go wrong!
Simple Kale Pasta with Bacon
- 6 slices bacon
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 8 ounces fresh kale trimmed and roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth
- 8 ounces linguini (or other long pasta)
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 cup shredded Havarti cheese
- Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook, stirring often, until brown and crispy. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the skillet and place on a paper-towel-lined plate. Set aside.
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil so that it is ready for the pasta. Salt the water generously.
- Return the skillet to low heat. Add the garlic slices and red pepper flakes, then cook for one minute. The garlic should start to brown. Add the kale in batches, turning and stirring it in the skillet until it wilts. Add the vegetable broth and immediately cover. Cook for 10 minutes or until the kale is tender.
- Immediately after you cover the kale, drop the linguini into the boiling water and cook for just under 10 minutes or until al dente.
- When the kale is finished cooking, uncover and continue cooking on low heat until most of the stock is evaporated. Stir in the smoked paprika, salt and pepper.
- Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the kale along with 1/3 cup of the pasta water and the shredded cheese. Toss it together until the cheese melts and combines with the pasta water to create a sauce. Add additional pasta water as needed.
- Transfer to a serving dish, then sprinkle with the cooked bacon and additional grated cheese.