What is it about pesto? That bright green, bursting with flavor, spread it on anything deliciousness? In the height of the summer, my dad’s garden has rows of tall bushy basil. In my lazy-girl’s city garden (on my deck, in the country) I always keep several pots going as well. But here it is, a cold winter-like spring, and the only green outside is the half-inch daffodil sprouts that are ever-so-cautiously re-entering the world.
Yesterday, however, I found myself in possession of a large supply of slightly droopy arugula. Slightly droopy because I might have over-purchased last week in my unofficial Orchard Chicks Food Co-op. Periodically, particularly in winter when the gardens are barren, we hit the restaurant supplier store and stock up on a few cases of good-looking produce. Last week, among other things, the arugula was particularly tempting.
It’s a fun little game, this buying produce by the case. Of course the prices (per pound) are much better than regular grocery store prices, but that only makes sense if you manage to use everything you bring home. The beauty, though, is that in an attempt to not let anything go to waste, you’re forced to find creative ways to feed more fruits and veggies to your family. What’s not to love?
Which brings us back to a big old bunch of aging arugula that is about one day beyond salad worthy….
First, take an entire head of garlic. You could tenderly peel away the outer skin, but really, just crush it with the heel of your hand to separate all of the cloves. A quick press on each clove with the side of your knife will loosen the papery skin so it slips off easily. (If you don’t like the smell of garlic on your hands, simply rub them on some stainless steel – your sink, a bowl, etc – when you wash them….the odor will disappear.)
Add all of the garlic cloves to a small saucepan containing about 1/2 cup of olive oil. Or more. When you’re making a garlic-infused oil, it’s never a problem if you make more than you need. Simmer it gently for a few minutes just until the cloves begin to turn a pale golden color. (If they get too dark they’ll be bitter.)
Check through your arugula and pick out anything unsavory, then toss the whole lot of it into the bowl of your food processor. Add the garlic cloves and the oil. I also tossed in a few leaves of basil (literally, I think there were 6 leaves that my windowsill plant could spare) and a partial bunch of flat leaf parsley to brighten things up. Pulse your machine a few times to get things going, then whir it for about 20 seconds.
Finally, add about 1/2 cup of grated cheese….I used a blend of parmesan and pecorino romano. Spin another 15 or 20 seconds and you’re done. Easy peasy. If you check the flavor you might find, as I did, that you don’t even need salt or pepper. The natural pepperiness of the arugula, and the saltiness of the cheese was plenty. Add nuts if you’d like, but not required. The arugula and parsley really keep this pesto a brilliant bright green without any browning that you’d get with all basil.
Toss with some pasta, add to grilled chicken, spread on bruschetta or, as I discovered this morning, toss it with some sauteed zoodles (more about those another day) and top with a fried egg for a delicious breakfast.