I want to talk to you about pesto today, specifically about breaking any sort of pesto rules that may exist out there and treating it like a blank canvas for turning herbs and greens into saucy goodness.
But before we get to that, commmmon over for a little photo-tour of the garden with some exciting updates. Last week was pretty rainy and besides the whole rain-on-camera thing, it was a pretty perfect week for a photoshoot. If you’re new, I posted garden updates here and here, so feel free to check them out to see the progress!
WIN: KALE!! I planted 3 different varieties – white russian (pictured above), lacinato, and scarlet – and they’re all strong, beautiful, and not eaten by insects. I totally didn’t expect that the bugs would let me have the kale…so thanks, bugs!
FAIL: The bugs weren’t so kind with the swiss chard and ate pretty much all of it! I planted a second sowing in a sunnier spot to see if it would be more bug-resilient there.
WIN: PEAS! They’re loving their DIY string trellis, are now taller than I am, and are starting to flower! The fava beans are also making some teeny weeny pods. W00T!
FAIL: Does anyone know why cucumbers get stuck in the little sprout phase? They’re so.slow.to.grow….giddy up, cukes! I want pickles.
WIN: RADISHES!!! Most spring radish varieties take around 30 days from seed to harvest, so when you know that it’ll be about a month before another plant will take up a certain space, radishes are the way to go. They make a great companion for other veggies, such as zucchini, where they’re said to repel the squash vine borer and also provide shade for the base of the plant to keep the soil from drying out. I did about 5 sowings, 1 week apart and they’re still going strong. The Flamboyant radish (pictured above) has been my fav, and the malaga radish, a close second.
FAIL: Purple plum radishes.
WIN: CILANTRO!!! It’s my all-time favourite herb and it’s so cute, fragrant, and productive. I get an occasional whiff of it just walking through the garden and it’s the perfect olfactory reminder of why I’m doing all of this. Also… I let one of those yucky purple plum radishes go to seed and it made the most beautiful flowering monster plant. Maybe the pods will taste better than the roots.
FAIL: I’m kinda disappointed with our basil situation. The leaves are turning brown and the basil plants just keep on making flowers, ignoring all of my pinching off efforts.
WIN: OH hey there, Opalka! The tomato plants are super lively and are already setting beautiful clusters of fruit.
FAIL: Waiting for the tomatoes. It’s torture. I want them now.
WIN: GOOD WEEDS! Lamb’s quarters and wood sorrel are abundant in my garden, and while they can be annoyingly weedy, they’re also pretty awesome to eat. I see little bits of purslane too which I’m excited for.
Wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) is not closely related to regular sorrel, but shares its sour flavour due to the presence of oxalic acid. It’s delicious, and perfectly fine to eat in small amounts, but be careful in consuming large amounts of it, especially raw, as it can be toxic to susceptible individuals. I like to use the delicate tangy leaves as a garnish.
Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album), also sometimes called wild spinach or goosefoot (amongst other names) is closely related to quinoa and is interchangeable with spinach in the kitchen. Some even say that it’s more spinachy than spinach, when cooked, but I haven’t gone there yet to confirm that sentiment. It also contains oxalic acid and should be consumed in moderation, especially if raw.
A note on eating weeds: While many weeds are perfectly safe and even nutritious to eat, take great care in identifying, safely harvesting, and preparing uncultivated plants. I’ve had sufficient guidance from experienced foragers to be confident in identifying these plants on my own but please don’t use my pictures as an identification resource. Seek the guidance of an experienced forager or herbalist in your area if you’re interested in learning how to harvest and eat wild plants. DO NOT eat something if you can’t positively identify it, are not sure about which parts to eat, or how to prepare it.
FAIL: BAD WEEDS – I’m looking at you, spiky ones, that keep me from walking around bare foot. I’m looking at you, vine-y ones, that strangle my other plants and seem to grow back within exactly a day of being pulled. What’s up with that?
So lets talk about pesto! You’ve probably seen a recipe of some sort on every blog, and I initially felt that I had nothing to add to the conversation, but I think I might… I won’t tell you how to make the perfect pesto because I don’t believe that such a thing exists. What I do believe is that you can do whatever you want. That’s my recipe: do whatever you want.
For the pesto you see here, I went out and pulled about a 1/4 lb of greens from the garden. There was kale, bolted arugula (extra spicy but great for pesto!), basil tops from my disappointing plants, some radish flowers that I used as a garnish and the weeds mentioned above – lamb’s quarters and wood sorrel. Here’s a totally non-exhaustive list of other greens and herbs that I think would be great:
- beet greens
- swiss chard
- carrot tops
- radish greens
- collard greens
- anise hyssop
- etc, etc, etc…..
Traditionally pesto is made with basil, pine nuts, hard cheese (i.e. Parmesan), and olive oil. It’s delicious. But sometimes we don’t have a bucket of basil….and holy shit pine nuts are expensive!…and sometimes we don’t want cheese (did I just say that?). I might disappoint my Italian neighbours on this one, but I really see no need to be traditional here!
For this version, a one-off since I never really make pesto the same way, I used a mostly sunflower seeds, a small amount of pine nuts, and a few brazil nuts. I skipped the cheese, and added some lemon juice. Adding lemon juice helps preserve the pesto for an extra few days, makes it creamier, and is something I would usually use in whatever I’m using pesto for anyway. My current recipe is shared below, but I want to challenge you to make your own version and let me know in the comments below what you used and how it turned out!
There will be plenty of pesto-loving recipes over the summer, and I’ll be back with one of my faves later this week!
Happy Monday, friends! xo
- 4oz (~9 cups) of mixed greens and herbs (I used kale, arugula, basil, lamb's quarters, and wood sorrel)
- 2 Tbsp. sunflower seeds
- 1 Tbsp. pine nuts
- 4-5 Brazil nuts
- 1 large clove of garlic
- 1/2 tsp. salt + more to taste
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice + more to taste
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil + more for storage
- In a food processor, pulse the herbs until coarsely chopped. I stuffed my 9-cup food processor to the max, but if you have a smaller one, you may have to do this in batches and then combine the chopped herbs before adding other ingredients.
- Add the nuts, salt, and lemon jucie and process until creamy.
- Empty into a bowl and stir in the olive oil (processing olive oil at a high speed can change its flavour, so I prefer to stir it in).
- Taste and adjust salt and lemon juice, if needed.
- Store in a jar, topped off with olive oil to prevent surface oxidation.