Its that time of year when weird, delicious things are going to start showing up at the market or in CSA baskets that not everyone will be sure what to do with, aka SPRING! Personally this is one of my favorite times of year to cook; the bright, fresh produce is inspiring in the kitchen. This first part of spring is all about green! Lettuces, herbs and greens are some of the first things to come to life and start showing up in any kind of quantity. Im just starting to get mine into the dirt; there are some herb & salad bowls that need to begin to adorn my porch and get eaten! Herbs and lettuce are easy to identify and use, even greens, really, but what about some of the randoms things you may come across if they aren’t all hoarded by our local chefs?
Ramps, wild green onions that sprout up all over south western PA in the cooler, early parts of spring, are usually one of the first things to appear. I dig ramps and am going to do what I can to get in on a ramp hunting mission next year – it is easiest to got forage for them yourself, I am not willing to pay what I saw them priced at in the grocery store. Fiddlehead ferns are starting to pop up; these are these curled up green sprouts from fiddlehead ferns, reminiscent of a grassy asparagus in flavor, but I don’t see them out & about often. My favorite, though? Spring garlic.
It looks like a warped green onion, but it isn’t. It is what happens when you pull garlic in the spring instead of letting it fully mature. The top parts taste like a garlicy green onion and can be used as such, the bulbs are much different than what you would think of as garlic. The bulb is crisp like an onion, and very garlicy, but each bulb is only about pungent as a single clove of garlic, maybe. The best way I can think to describe it is fresher; garlic with the texture and potency of an onion. If you like garlic, and I looooves me some garlic, seek these out, they are delicious. And affordable.
I am a sucker for pesto, it can be used on so many things. Pesto is more of a process than a specific thing, describing the of crushing herbs with cheese, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. Traditionally that herb is basil, but basil does not hold exclusive rights to delicious pesto, nor do pine nuts, really – I have used all manner of toasted nuts in different pestos depending on the flavor I am wanting. Old school pesto was crushed with a mortar and pestle, I prefer my trusty Cuisinart. As mush as I love a good upper body workout the speed and efficiency of the food processor makes it a no brainer. I make this up in batches and store it in the fridge; it holds for a couple weeks.
I love pestos for the potent flavors, but it is also a healthy way to add a ton of flavor with good fat. Pesto is packed with raw fresh herbs, extra virgin olive oil, nuts…all good for you. When you think of condiments that add flavor most also add a ton of fat, not pesto. It may not work everywhere, but it is a great alternative where it does fit to add flavor without a lot of unhealthy.
I am sure I will share a number of different pesto recipes as the summer wears on and my herb gardens go nuts, but this one uses spring garlic, basil, parsley, lemon and pine nuts. Fresh basil is one of my most favorite things and appears, in some quantity, in most of my pesto recipes, in this one it is paired with flat leaf parsley. The freshness of the spring garlic plays very well with the brightness of the parsley and lemon. As far as usage – limitless. It is good tossed with roasted potatoes, pasta, vegetables, marinating stuff, base for dressings or mayos, a sauce for grilled or sauteed fish or shellfish, pasta sauces, drizzled on fresh corn…I could go on but I think you get the point. Anywhere you want a punch of fresh, herby flavor – boom – pesto.
Only challenging part of making pesto is toasting the pine nuts. I do it over medium heat in a small saute pan, agitating often. It is a tedious process, but necessary. Raw pine nuts taste gross, kind of like gasoline to be honest, but take on this rich, roasted nutty perfection when toasted. When burnt they are inedible. Pine nuts are also packed with oil that you need to turn on with toasting or their texture is chalky, also bad. If you don’t want to use pine nuts walnuts, macadamia nuts and almonds can be substituted, but also need toasted. Im my opinion the nuts are necessary for the right texture. I have made it without for dietary restrictions and it is still good, but more oily since there is nothing in there to hold it all together and not as rich.
It is also to make this with fresh garlic as opposed to the spring garlic, but you will want to cook it a little bit so it is not as harsh and gassy as raw garlic. Roughly chop 3-4 cloves and saute ove medium heat in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for a few minutes. You don’t need to cook it completely, just take off the edge. I am not a fan of using raw garlic in things that could be used uncooked, it is unnecessarily harsh and overpowers everything.
Spring Garlic Pesto – makes about 2 cups
- 5 bulbs Spring Garlic – cleaned, trimmed & chopped up
- 2 bunches Basil
- 1 bunch Flat Leaf Parsley
- zest & juice of a Lemon
- 1 Tbsp Kosher Salt
- 1 tsp Fresh Ground Black Pepper
- 1/2 cup Fresh Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 4oz Pine Nuts, toasted
- 1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Trim up & clean the spring garlic, came as you would a green onion, roughly chop and put in the food processor. Clean the herbs, remove the stems from both and rough chop, add the the food processor. Add all the remaining ingredients except the oil and pulse until everything is chopped up and combined.
Slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the machine running until it makes a paste. You can add more or less depending on what you think looks right. Taste it and add more salt if you need to.
So far I’ve tossed some with sauteed zucchini, marinated some chicken thighs in a mix of plain yogurt & pesto (still toying with that one, tasted great just didn’t look all that pretty), made garlic bread with it and tossed it with some roasted fingerling potatoes. It is NEVER a bad idea to have some pesto hanging out in the fridge!