For whatever reason, I’ve had a really hard time writing this post.
It definitely isn’t due to lack of effort. Quite the contrary, I’ve sat down to write this post many, many times. But every time I turn on my computer and attempt to write about this radish leaf pesto…I simply draw a blank. I try to will my brain to come up with the words, but my brain keeps telling me that it would rather look at pretty things on Pinterest. Apparently, I can’t will my own brain into submission.
All that to say, it would appear that I’ve got a case of writer’s block. It happens to the best of us. I think that I’ve had a hard time writing this recipe because, well, it isn’t really a recipe. Pesto is one of my favorite things to make, for this very reason. There isn’t any one right way to make it, and there are no hard and fast rules for pesto-making. Pesto can take on many different forms, depending on the mood and ingredients at hand. The very freedom I feel in making pesto is the very thing that makes it so hard to write about.
Since I’m having trouble finding the words, I’ll just say this: pesto = greens + garlic + hard cheese + nuts.
It’s as simple as that. To be clear, pesto is traditionally made with basil and pine nuts. But by no means am I traditional, and therefore my pesto tends to skew the same way. Depending upon what I find in my fridge, I’ll make pesto with any combination of the following ingredients: parmesan, pine nuts, hazelnuts, arugula, cilantro, asiago, beet greens, basil, mint, parsley, pecorino romano, almonds, walnuts, and more. There are countless ways to make pesto, it all just depends on what you like (or what you have on hand).
Seeing as this is the season for all things green, I find myself making pesto all the time. My garden and fridge are currently overflowing with leafy greens, and as much as my bunny would love to devour all my extra greens, I usually break his little heart and make a giant batch of pesto instead. Pesto is a fantastic way to reduce waste and use greens before they go bad, and pesto can easily be frozen and then thawed for later use. It just might be the perfect food.
However, in all of my years of pesto-making, it had never dawned on me to use radish leaves. In fact, I’m rather embarassed to admit that it had never occurred to me that you can eat radish leaves (On the same note, I recently saw a recipe for pesto using carrot greens. Genius!). I give all credit for this idea to Portland’s own Chef Vitaly Paley, who recently competed against Chef Garces on Iron Chef America’s “Battle Radish”. During the battle, Chef Paley whipped up many amazing things, including a radish leaf pesto. Even the usually unflappable Iron Chef judges were amazed by his use of radish leaf. It was such an inventive way to use the entire vegetable, as opposed to just throwing the greens away. Chef Paley made all us Portlanders proud! (Note: Chef Paley also won Battle Radish)
It goes without saying that the next time I bought radishes from the farmer’s market, I came straight home and made a batch of radish leaf pesto. It was everything I hoped it would be! The radish leaves lend a little kick of spice to the pesto, and they give it an especially vibrant bright green color. Honestly, I’ll never look at radishes (or their leaves) the same way again. They are a versatile and delicious little vegetable.
(And would you look at that? I see a lot of words on this here page. Maybe I don’t have writer’s block after all!)
RADISH LEAF AND HAZELNUT PESTO PASTA SALAD
Note: When I make pesto, I don’t measure anything. I usually start by throwing a few cloves of garlic in the food processor. Then, I’ll add greens and nuts. Then olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a few red pepper flakes. I keep blending and adding olive oil and/or lemon juice, until the pesto looks right to me. I happen to like a nice, thick pesto that isn’t too heavy on the olive oil. The following measurements are a set of rough guidelines, so feel free to alter the amounts in any way you see fit.
For the radish leaf pesto:
1 large bunch of radish leaves, washed and patted dry (radishes set aside for use in pasta salad)
3 heads of green garlic (or 3 cloves of normal garlic)
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Dash of red chili flakes
1 large handful of fresh basil leaves* (or any other leafy green you have on hand)
*Note: I was making a rather large batch of pesto, so one bunch of radish leaves wasn’t going to cut it, hence why I added in basil. You could easily double the amount of radish leaves for a larger batch, but I only had the one bunch on hand.
Method: Mince garlic using a food processor. Add in nuts, radish leaves, basil, and lemon juice. Blend until combined. Add olive oil in small amounts, until you reach desired consistency. Season with salt, pepper, chili flakes, and extra lemon juice (if so desired). If not using immediately, refrigerate until use.
For the pasta salad:
1 small bunch of asparagus
1/4 cup freshly shaved parmesan cheese
1 lb fresh pasta of your choosing
1/2 cup low fat Greek yogurt
1/2 – 1 cup radish leaf pesto
1 cup baby arugula
Radishes, washed and sliced thinly
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta water and set pasta aside to cool.
Snap the ends off the asparagus. Bring a small pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. When the pot of water is boiling, add asparagus. Allow the asparagus to cook for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, remove the asparagus from the boiling water and immediately plunge into the ice bath. Once the asparagus has cooled (a few minutes), remove it from the ice bath and cut into 1″ pieces.
Toss cooled pasta with a drizzle of olive oil. Stir together pesto and Greek yogurt, then toss yogurt and pesto mixture with the pasta. Gently stir in parmesan cheese, sliced radishes, asparagus and arugula. Allow to chill at least 20 minutes before serving, as this will allow the flavors to meld.