The Milkweed Diaries

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pesto, pesto, rah rah rah

On the lookout for ways to preserve food as the tidal wave of vegetables continues, I was inspired this morning by Jeff Ashton's musings on pesto in his book The 12- Month Gardener.

Jeff lives somewhere around here and I've taken his classes at the Organic Growers School. I credit him with a lot of what I know about raised beds and season extension. Christopher recently invested in a used copy of the The 12- Month Gardener to help with planning our fall garden, and as I was skimming around in it I noticed an interesting sidebar about making pesto out of unconventional vegetables. At the mention of beet greens, my eyes lit up.

We grew "Bulls Blood" beets this year, a heirloom variety with a deep, dark red leafy top. I love to eat the luscious red leaves, which seem just packed with pure vegetable nutrition and taste strong and hearty. But lately I can't eat them fast enough to keep up with the garden. I'm fermenting the beet roots, but I'd been wondering how to put away the greens without cooking the good nutritional juju out of them. Aha! Beet green pesto preserves the greens raw, with all of the nutritional value intact, and the fact that the leaves are all holey and not aesthetically pleasing after a season of insect snacking doesn't matter after they are food-processed into pestodom.

My previous pesto-making endeavors have been limited to variations on the traditional basil standard. But after the Jeff Ashton tip and on the heels of savoring the purslane pesto that Alan made last week I leapt with gusto into the world of unconventional pestos.

I made 4 different batches one morning last week -- 3 with various combinations of sorrel, beet greens, and Magenta Spreen lambsquarters (above is one gorgeous volunteer plant in the garden, re-seeded from last year) and 1 with a bunch of "sundried" tomatoes from our dehydrating adventures and basil from the garden.

My tasters tell me that the sundried tomato/basil one is the best, but I am partial to a pink pesto that's heavy on the dark red beet greens and bright pink lambsquarters.

Here's an approximate recipe:
  • Beet leaves/tops
  • Lambsquarters (wild green or cultivated Magenta Spreen)
  • French sorrel
  • Flat leaf parsley
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Peeled garlic cloves
  • Lemon juice
  • A little water if necessary to make the food processor swirl
These can be combined in an almost infinite variety of proportions. I used somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 cup of sunflower seeds, 1/2 cup olive oil and 1/4 cup lemon juice for every batch, along with 5 or 6 cloves of garlic and greens to fill up the rest of the food processor. You can skip the lemon juice if you add a lot of sorrel, since it's super lemony.

Which reminds me to sing the praises of sorrel. It's perennial. It's easy. It's trรจs gourmet. It's beautiful in the garden from the time it first appears in the spring to its tall, flowering peak. And it tastes so good! I can't say enough good things about it, really. Sorrel, how do I love you? Let me count the ways. I like it in salads, as a cooked green, in soups, and today I learned it's fabulous in pesto too.

Here's some in our garden (above).

In any case, viva el pesto!


Heather said...

Well this just answered my questions!

Apparently I need to grow pursulane, lamb's quarters and sorrel ;)

great post

Milkweed said...

The good news about all 3 is that they are SUPER EASY and will come back year after year (vigorously!) once you plant them...have fun!