Is your garden waking up, like mine? Parsley is blooming and needs harvesting, basil is already starting to flower and wild garlic and wild onions are trying to take over the lawn (sigh). All of these early herbs make wonderful, no-cook green sauces. My absolute favorite – probably because of the cheese and nuts! – is pesto. Here’s generic recipe you can customize to suit whatever ingredients you have.
- ½ lb green herbs – parsley, basil, even ramps or nettles
- ½ cup nuts (see Note 1)
- ½ cup grated cheese: most cooks use Parmesan, but I like pecorino (stronger flavor – see Note 2)
citrus juice – lemon, yuzu, lime
- oil – ½ to 1 cup (see Note 3)
- seasonings: salt & pepper, at a minimum
Notes on ingredients:
- The nuts can be any type (hazelnuts, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, etc.), but they are better toasted until fragrant and any dark skins rubbed off in a tea towel. Don’t obsess about this.
- Cheese: it’s always best to grate your own. If you use it fast enough, Costco sells Cello brand flaked Parmesan in pound tubs and a Parmesan-pecorino grated blend in 24 oz bags. Both are very acceptable for cooking.
- Use a decent quality oil, but don’t spend for cold-pressed extra virgin. Spanish olive oil is spicy, inexpensive, and usually accurately labeled. Consider neutral-tasting oils like grapeseed.
If you’re using foraged greens – alliums, ramps ,or nettles – blanch them first (30 seconds in boiling water; don’t worry, they’ll turn dark, but it won’t affect the final product). Chop as finely as the nature of your greens requires: for example, wild onions need to be chopped, into 1-2” lengths, or they’ll wrap around the processor blades; ramp leaves need to be coarsely chopped (at least four pieces) and the bulbs more finely. Relax, use your judgment: you can’t over process this stuff.
Add the greens to the food processor, along with the nuts, cheese, and a squeeze of citrus. Pulse until finely chopped, and then, with the processor running, add enough oil so the mixture comes together and reaches the consistency of loose mayonnaise. Season to taste.
You cannot mess this up. Any combination will be edible – as a pasta sauce, sandwich spread, or dip base. I use pesto and pesto variations instead of butter on whole wheat English muffins. Decadent!
Get out there and forage! Wild onions, garlic, and nettles are good for you and offer protection against many diseases.