Wild Spring Greens Pesto & Pasta
I just returned from a trip to Italy – where this time of year you see legions of Nonna’s in the morning sun bending over their unsure legs, pulling something or another out of the ground. Content, they stuff their treasures in bags and sacks and hobble home. As we walked thru the Borghese gardens, I couldn’t help but notice the frenzy. It turns out the tradition of foraging and eating wild greens in the spring is an ancient one – going back not only to the middle ages but ancient Rome and Greece. High in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, the Greek physician Hippocrates encouraged his peers to feast on wild greens in the spring as a strengthening tonic for both the body and soul. Point well taken as the Nonnas move through the park. A young Italian man explained that “In the spring, it is what you do.” Silly me for asking! “You must clear out the winter in your body.”
As soon as the early greens appear, traditional cooks forage in forests, and green markets for dandelion, watercress, mustard greens, lovage, mint, coriander, savory, sage, wild onions and garlic, often eaten as a salad or sautéd in olive oil as a side dish or mixed with pasta.
My take is a bit different. I like to make an untraditional pesto. This recipe is fast, healthy, easy and raw. It can be easily be prepared with a food processor although traditionalists will want to use a mortar and pestle which will give you a finer mouth feel. Unless I feel like fussing or impressing my friends with my borage shoots – the processor works just fine and saves so much time. I’ll often double or triple the recipe to freeze for a quick meal later in the season.
Delicious and very satisfying – I like this on toasted garlic bread as an appetizer – “Wild Greens Bruschetta” or as shown over pasta – Wild Greens and Kale Pesto Over Buckwheat Pizzoccheri Pasta”. With a few slices of prosciutto and a glass of a crisp white wine – a Pinot Bianco perhaps – it makes a perfect spring lunch or dinner.
An important note – foraging is fine if your dandelion studded lawn hasn’t been sprayed and is free of dogs and deer. I highly suggest that you visit your local farmer’s market for baby kale, spring herbs, cress & mustard greens.
Wild Greens and Kale Pesto Recipe
2 Bunches of Baby Kale – full formed kale is fine, you will just have to take the time to strip the stalks
1 Bunch of Dandelion Greens
1 Bunch of Flat Leaf Parsley
1 Bunch of Mint
1 Orange – for zest
4 oz Raw Almonds – Pine Nuts, Brazil Nuts, Pistachios all work equally well
4 to 8 oz of Pecorino Romano Cheese – a nice Italian man explained to me that it melts better.
2 to 4 Cloves of Garlic
1 Cup + Extra Virgin Olive Oil – I prefer the early spring green oil if available
Sea Salt or Cayenne Pepper if you choose
Prep your greens by washing and drying well. I spray even organic vegetables with a solution of 2 T vinegar to 2 cups of water and then rinse well.
Rough chop the greens and cube the cheese. The processor works best when all the items to be processed are about the same size.
Zest the Orange. Juice the orange this is a nice addition to the pesto giving the greens a bit of a bright taste.
Begin by chopping 1/2 the greens in the food processor. Drizzle 1/2 the olive oil and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
While the processor is on add the cheese, nuts, garlic and the zest. Scrape down the bowl.
Add the balance of the greens, and while the processor is on drizzle in the balance of the oil and a splash orange juice.
Taste for balance – you may need more oil or salt – I find that the cheese is salty enough. The addition of cayenne is nice as well.
This pesto is ready to add to pasta or can be frozen for later use. When serving with pasta – make sure that you add a splash of oil to the pasta bowl before you add the cooked pasta. This will allow the pasta and the pesto to blend.
Buckwheat Pizzoccheri is a particularly toothy pasta. It is also lovely with a whole wheat orecchiette or a farfalle
Tutti a Tavola!