June 10, 2013

Garden Series Part II: Arugula & Herbs

Along with salad greens and a few perennial herbs, arugula became one of the biggest hits in the garden in the past couple weeks.  Since it is pungent, and I doubt you need a new recipe for salad, I thought I'd try a pesto.

I found out a wonderful pesto trick last summer when I harvested the last of the basil.  I love pesto, but I do like one that has the right balance of flavors and texture.  I also prefer it to remain bright green and luxurious, but I had accepted that basil oxidizes and pesto only lasts a short time.  But it doesn't have to be that way...

The secret is blanching your herbs.  It sounds like a bad idea; like it would ruin the flavor and wilt the herbs into disintegration.  What it actually does it preserve the flavor and the wonderful green color, adds a silkiness to the finished sauce, and allows it to keep well for days.  This is the type of pesto I will make from now on and freeze at the end of the season to enjoy all year.

In any case, don't skip the blanching and feel free to mix up the choice of herbs.  Basil is always wonderful and quintessential, but consider any soft green herb with bold flavor.  Arugula makes a nice sub for early summer/late spring, when it's growing like crazy and basil is barely sprouting.  Pine nuts can easily be swapped for walnuts, if you're a bit of a traditionalist.

  • 4 cups arugula or basil, packed
  • 6 T. parmesan, plus more to garnish
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt to taste

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and set up a bowl of ice water, big enough to hold a strainer.  I like to use my salad spinner for this - after I discovered the strainer part of it can handle hot water.  Once the water comes to a boil, add the arugula and submerge it in the hot water.  Blanch the arugula for just a few seconds - it will become a very bright green.

Pour the arugula through the strainer and replace the strainer in the ice water for a minute, to shock and chill. Remove the strainer from the ice water and allow the water to drain off.

Put the arugula, parmesan, walnuts, and garlic in a food processor.  A chopped clove of raw garlic would be fine here, I just prefer a light touch of garlic flavor so as not to discourage my customers from talking to me for a couple days.  Process the ingredients and allow the blade to run while drizzling in the oil.

Taste the pesto for salt.  Add just a small amount, because the pungency of the herbs and the parmesan have already done some great seasoning work for you.

Enjoy on bread, over pasta, or by the spoonful.  This does keep well, but it might not last long enough to worry about that.

P.S.  I know, I know.  I promised an extra post last week.  It's ready for this Thursday.  I promise.  It's auto-scheduled and everything!

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