Sunday, May 30, 2010

Arugula Pesto

One of my favorite new green things of spring is arugula. (You may see it under other names, including rocket, which is just cool.) Its long, narrow, curvy leaves can range from peppery to downright bitter. It makes a great salad, especially when mixed with other tender lettuces that tame its strength a little. Arugula also grows easily from seed, even in containers, which means I can grow some on my porch. It also seems to prefer the cooler weather (just like me) so, if you’re on the ball with your spring planting, it can be one of the first things in the garden that’s ready to eat.

A couple years ago, I tried a recipe for a pesto sauce made with arugula and kalamata olives. It was delicious. The nutty, peppery bitterness of the arugula was well balanced by the briny olives. I’d been thinking about that recipe ever since. Recently, when I had a little arugula I had grown myself, plus a nice bunch that had been grown locally, I found out why I hadn’t made arugula pesto a second time. I had lost the recipe.

Since I have a pretty firm grasp of the theory of pesto (I make basil pesto every summer), and I remembered the two most important ingredients (fresh arugula and kalamata olives), I was able to put together something that was probably pretty close to the original. I included some toasted almonds to give the sauce body. Walnuts would probably be just as good, if not even better. I also added some flat leaf parsley to tame the arugula a bit, and whirled everything together in the food processor with some decent extra virgin olive oil. The result was pretty close to the original recipe or at least close to what I can remember, which is close enough.

I not only served this sauce with pasta, but I also stirred some into a pan of white beans simmered with garlic (about 1/3 cup in 3 cups of beans). I topped both dishes with crumbled feta cheese, which tasted like it was born to be there. This pesto probably could be spread on garlic bread or sandwiches, or maybe even whisked into a vinaigrette served over milder salad greens or spring vegetables. Or how about potatoes? Well, the pesto will last for a few days in the refrigerator (I haven’t tried freezing it, but that might work, too), so I can try them all. Then, if I can get my hands on some more arugula, I can try some more! And since the recipe is now recorded here, I should never lose it again!

Arugula Pesto with Kalamata Olives

1/3 cup chopped almonds
2 cups (loosely packed) arugula leaves, any tough stems trimmed
1 cup (loosely packed) parsley leaves and tender stems
¼ cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
¾ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat. Heat, stirring often, until just beginning to brown. Be very careful not to burn them. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

2. Place the cooled almonds in a food processor and pulse until coarsely but evenly ground.

3. Add the arugula, parsley, olives, salt and pepper to the food processor. Process until everything is well ground into a coarse paste.

4. With the processor running, slowly add the olive oil and process until completely smooth. Your processor should have a feed tube or opening at the top to allow you to do this. (Add a little more olive oil if the pesto is too thick.)

Makes about 1 ½ cups

To serve, toss with hot pasta, thinning with a little pasta-cooking water if desired. You can also stir it into cooked beans, spread it on breads or add it to dressings.

Other recipes like this one: Basic Basil Pesto

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