HOMEMADE PESTO is a great way to combine foraged and shop-bought ingredients and can become a fridge favourite for anyone with a blender and a have-a-go attitude.
Pesto was first created in the northern Italy’s Genoa in the 16th Century, when it was discovered that a versatile sauce could be created by blending basil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese with olive oil.
In fact, the word ‘pesto’ finds it origins in the Genoese word ‘pestâ’, which, fittingly enough, means to crush or pound.
Over the centuries, the basic recipe has remained intact, but chefs and foragers have discovered that by substituting the basil with naturally-growing plants like wild garlic or nettles you can create your own healthy and cost-effective version.
Wild garlic in homemade pesto
I have never cooked with wild garlic but luckily our friend, trained chef Dawn Grace, is a big fan and very kindly shared her recipe for wild garlic pesto.
4oz grated Parmesan cheese
½ Pint Olive oil
3oz Pine Nuts
8oz Wild garlic leaves. (remove stems, wash and dry)
Salt and ground black pepper
Simply blitz all the ingredients together in food processor.
Dawn says that her pesto will hold for a week in the fridge if stored in a sealed jar and that it is “yummy on pasta, salad, brown bread…. actually yummy with everything…..”!
She also cautions that wild garlic can be similar to the poisonous white bluebell (and also lilies of the valley) so make sure you only pick leaves with a distinctive garlicy smell! So make sure you know what you’re picking.
Nettles in homemade pesto
Until a couple of years ago I would sometimes buy a small tub of pesto from a stall-holder in our local farmers’ market. It was a little chunky, which I preferred to smooth pesto, and I was gutted when it was no longer available.
Then, I tasted a nettle pesto at the West Waterford Festival of Food in Dungarvan last year and I knew it had the kind of texture and taste that I would like to try to recreate at home.
So, here’s our nettle pesto recipe, and remember that the measurements are really just guidelines – you should add or take away to suit your own taste.
3 Cups freshly-picked nettle leaves (late spring, early summer)
4-6 Crushed garlic cloves (depending on how much you like your garlic)
¾ Cup cashew nuts (you can substitute pine or any other oily nuts if you prefer)
¼ Cup olive oil (your favourite brand, it does not have to be wildly expensive)
½ teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice (fresh, rather than anything out of a bottle), and finally
¾ Cup parmesan cheese (this is optional, if you’re vegan or not a fan then leave out)
- After collecting your nettle leaves with great care (use rubber gloves and wash if you feel they’ve been exposed to dust etc) pop into a pot of boiling water for one minute. Make sure you strain the nettles well but keep the water as you can use it to make nettle tea later.
- Blitz the nettles in a food blender before adding all the rest of the ingredients. Don’t forget to taste test.
My favourite way to eat pesto, if not on brown soda bread, is to mix a little with some cooked pesto and prawns for a really quick, easy meal.
I’ve already written about the numerous health benefits of adding nettles to your diet and if you want to learn more just click here.
I would love to hear about any recipes you have created – you can contact me through the blog. Also why not subscribe for free updates on the topics I write about, or follow me on Facebook and Twitter and don’t forget to share my blogs with your friends!