Thursday, August 9, 2012

Move over Basil......Pesto from other greens.

Submitted by Megan Bucknum

Making Pesto with Garden Greens Other Than Basil

Basil pesto is great, especially over pasta or on a great little crostini with a slice of freshly picked tomato and a touch of salt.  It amazes me how so many different ingredients -- basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and cheese -- all come together as if they were meant to be.  But, perhaps the actual basil gets too much of the credit, when really it is the technique, and other ingredients, that yields a great texture and flavor.  With this in mind, I have been experimenting this spring and summer with making pestos from other greens and even other nuts. 

My first experiment was a pretty common substitute for basil, arugula.  Every spring when I start to see the fiddlehead ferns (or ostrich ferns) I have a craving for pizza topped with these great oddities.  I made an arugula-tahini pesto based pizza topped with fiddleheads, cheese and sundried tomatoes.  It was fantastic!  See the pesto recipe below.

Arugula-Tahini Pesto
1 bunch arugula
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
juice of 1 lemon 
½ - ¾ cup olive oil
Place the arugula, tahini and lemon juice in a food processor.  Blend until the greens are beginning to be chopped.  With the processor still running, drizzle the olive oil through the top until it becomes the texture of a spreadable paste.  Add to your discretion until you have achieved your desired consistency.  Finish by blending in salt and pepper to taste.

Earlier in the summer, I planted mustard greens and every seed that I sowed produced like crazy.  Being faced with a large amount of one mighty flavorful green, I started to think of some different cooking options.  I found a mustard green pesto recipe online and tossed it with pasta and mushrooms and it was delicious.  The cheese in the recipe helped take away some of the “bite” that these greens can have if you eat them raw.  I did not have pecans, so I substituted with walnuts.

Mustard-Pecan (or Walnut) Pesto
from Bon Appetit 
1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup pecans
2 garlic cloves, peeled, quartered
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 cups (loosely packed) coarsely chopped mustard greens
Blend 1/2 cup oil, pecans, and garlic in processor until finely chopped. Add vinegar, then Parmesan; process to blend. Add mustard greens alternately with remaining 1/3 cup oil in 2 additions each; puree until almost smooth. Season pesto with salt and pepper. Transfer to small bowl. Can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover; chill. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before using.

Just this past week, my CSA included dandelion greens and I have been growing a lot of different salad greens, so I decided to try another pesto.  I found a great recipe online from David Lebovtiz’s travels in Paris and decided to give it a whirl.  Next time I make this, I am going to try to substitute the pine nuts for sunflower seeds.  I used this pesto on-top of “beet stackers” that I made from chioggia beets and mozzarella cheese.

Dandelion-Pine Nut Pesto
from David Lebovitz
12 ounces washed and cleaned dandelion leaves
1 cup olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 tablespoons  pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 1/2 ounces Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated

Put about one-third of the dandelion greens in the food processor or blender with the olive oil and chop for a minute, scraping down the sides. Add the remaining dandelion greens in two batches, until they’re all finely chopped up.  Add the garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, and Parmesan, and process until everything is a smooth puree.  Taste, and add more salt if necessary. If it’s too thick, you can thin it with more olive oil or water.

By seeing three different pesto recipes using other greens, you have probably noticed that there is a basic formula:  greens, oil, salt, nuts, salt and cheese.  So go out and experiment!  This is one recipe that you can always stop and taste and adjust.  Have fun and turn your garden’s harvest into an experiment in your kitchen!

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