Garden Gluts, Rocketing Vegetables…and Pesto!

We had an unseasonably warm April this year in Ireland. With the soil warmer than usual, we seem to have stolen a march on the planting and reaping. I hazarded planting in the tomatoes before June in the polytunnel and am being rewarded with tiny green fruits before summer solstice. I ate my first courgette (zucchini) for my supper on 1st June. With the polytunnel offering protection when the winds were wild and temperatures plummeted in May, we are experiencing earlier crops.

But the wild rocket (arugula) that I used as a catch crop to cut down on weeding has, well, rocketed. To cope with the glut I rang around friends asking them to come and help themselves. But with their own lettuces and salad crops coming along, there is only so much you can eat. And unfortunately, arugula doesn’t freeze well.

I was scratching my head over creating a soup recipe, when I remembered a surefire way of dealing with some of the glut- pesto.

Pesto is a combination of ground herb, nut, and Parmesan cheese emulsified with olive oil.  Usually it is made with basil. Basil being both sun and heat loving is both a tender and tricky crop for us in Ireland.   The traditional recipe calls for pine nuts. Those can be hard to source out in rural Ireland and would be a twenty mile car drive away. But pesto is versatile and I remembered sampling one made with rocket once. A solution and recipe began to formulate with me remembering that the rocket pesto had used either walnuts or hazel nuts instead of the pine nuts.

Pesto can be used to dress pasta or rice dishes. You can marinate chicken breast or chops with it before you put them on the barbeque.  You can dilute it with yoghurt, mayonnaise or more olive oil to make a salad dressing.

Traditionally, it would have all been pounded to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. For time-pressed moderns, we have food processors or blenders. Once I had picked the rocket, the whole process was done in less than half an hour.

The other thing is that, like spinach, rocket compresses, so you need to use quite a lot of it to make even two small jars of pesto. I used four to five whole plants to make this batch.

Arugula Pesto

Take your plants and wash well. Pick over the quantity and remove the stems from the older and larger leafed plants. Immerse in a sink full of water to clear of any soil or critters. Pat dry on paper towels.

Meanwhile, get out your processor. Use the steel blade attachment.

Place in the processor 100 g. (a little less than 1 cup) walnuts, 40 ml (about 2 3/4 T.) balsamic vinegar, 5 ml (1 tsp.) salt, 50 g. (about 2/3 c.)  finely grated Parmesan cheese. Pour in olive oil to completely cover the ingredients. Process until the walnuts are well ground.

Now gradually add your arugula a handful at a time, processing and blending as you go. You may need to add some olive oil to emulsify the mixture at some point. Dribble in oil as you would when making mayonnaise. Easy does it!

When you have used up the arugula and got a nice smooth pesto mixture, spoon into hot sterilised jars. Pour a layer of olive oil to float on top of the mixture. Screw on the sterilised lid.

Put the jars into a deep pot. Pour boiling water up to the lip with the lid. Briefly boil for five minutes. Lift the jar out of the water and let it cool. Label it.

Unopened it should have a shelf life similar to shop bought. I’ve never been able to keep a home supply uneaten for more than six months, so I can’t vouch for longer than that.

Once opened, refrigerate.

This pesto was timidly passed on to my Italian friend who also lives in the depths of rural Ireland. It got the thumbs up!

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.