I am winning at gardening. I used to think I had a very black thumb. But what do you know? I’m actually making things come out of the ground that aren’t dead after a week. I guess the key is consistent watering (duh, Darlene). And just trial and error. If you are thinking about starting a garden, my advice is set yourself up with an easy win right from the beginning. This will give you the strength you need to continue in this strange new plant world.
Arugula. Super easy to grow, and very prolific. This year, the arugula was the first thing to come and it didn’t stop. It’s now found it’s way in to our meals from breakfast (arugula cheese english muffin sandwiches) to dinner with this arugula pesto. It also makes a great snack with some crackers or crusty bread (is this heaven?). Did you know that in Britain they call arugula “rocket”? (Confession: sometimes I say that word over and over again in a british accent while I’m making this.) Garden grown arugula is so tender, yet amazingly sharp. It’s different from store bought, but then, isn’t everything home grown different?
Here’s the thing about pesto. It took me awhile to master it. It should be easy right? After all, the food processor does all the work. But the thing is, pesto has to be a good balance between the salt, the nuts, the cheese and the herbs. If you add too much oil, these flavors are dulled.
Pesto, when finished, is that lovely bright green color that can sometimes fade too quickly to almost brown-black due to the oxidation of the delicate basil. I tried pouring a “protective” layer of olive oil over the surface of the pesto before storing in the fridge, but it didn’t seem to work and just made my pesto too oily.
From trial and error, I have developed a few tricks to keep my pesto from browning.
(One built-in bonus with using arugula: the blackening never happens. You can make this a week ahead of time and serve it like you totally got this summer entertaining thing down. No one will ever know, and it will undoubtedly be delicious.)
Toast with arugula and sliced cherry tomatoes is a great anytime snack:
Tips for making super green pesto: (applies to both arugula and basil pesto)
1. Use pistachios. They are green already, and so good! Joel got me hooked on using pistachios for pesto years ago, and I love this little twist. No reason pine nuts should have all the pesto fun.
2. Blend the hard stuff first (nuts, cheese, lemon zest) so that when you add the more delicate basil or arugula it will bruise less and be easier to blend.
3. Use a good amount of lemon juice. The acid will prevent oxidation.
This is exactly what you love about pesto: herby, garlicky, a little rich from the parmesan cheese, and thanks to our friendly garden lettuce, arugula, supremely peppery.
Super Green Arugula Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly sliced
3/4 cup finely grated or chopped parmesan
1/3 cup shelled pistachios, roasted and salted or raw
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 cups packed arugula
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
In the bowl of a food processor, add garlic slices, parmesan, and pistachios. Pulse about 6-10 times, until the nuts are in small pieces and the cheese and garlic is minced. Add the lemon zest and pulse 2 more times.
Pile the arugula into the food processor and squeeze the lemon juice over it.
Pulse a few times until the arugula is broken down and chopped small.
With the machine running now, pour the olive oil in a thin stream through the feeding tube of the food processor. Let it process for about 1 minute total time, adjusting to add more or less olive oil for your desired consistency.
Taste, adjust the salt and pepper, or possibly add more arugula if the flavors are too muted by the oil.
Store in the refrigerator for up to a month. Try it on bread, crackers, stirred into pasta or smeared all over chicken.