Nasturtium pesto

When it comes to pesto ingredients, think beyond basil, says Jean Vernon.

nasturtium pesto
Nasturtiums make a nice alternative to basil pesto.
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I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a pesto addict. There’s nothing fresher and tastier than home grown, homemade pesto and in the summer it’s the greatest fast food supper you can have. I’m a huge fan of making pesto with basil and I grow heaps of the stuff from seed in my greenhouse. Add some lovely olive oil, some homegrown garlic and some toasted nuts and you’ve got a fantastic basis for a meal.

Traditionally pesto is made with pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, but the former are exorbitantly expensive and the Parmesan is not suitable for vegetarians, so I prefer to improvise. If there’s ample basil I will use that and mix it with toasted walnuts. If basil is in short supply (e.g. in spring) I have been known to make pesto with wilted nettles and you know what, it really is delicious.

But the garden is a living larder and on a visit to Petersham Nurseries in Surrey I learned of another garden stalwart that makes great pesto; nasturtiums. We all know that the flowers and leaves and even the seeds are edible and I often add all of these to a salad, but I had never thought to make them into pesto. Considering the hot spicy flavours of nasturtium leaves, they really are the ideal ingredients. Be warned though, you shouldn’t eat them en masse regularly, so please don’t overdose on this peppery herb, always eat in moderation.

If you’ve got a hazelnut tree in the garden then harvest some of the nuts now, their milky white nuts are great with nasturtiums, add freshly dug garlic coves and some rich olive oil and you have everything you need for your mixture.

When it comes to the cheese its your choice. As I don’t eat Parmesan, I prefer to use a strongly flavoured grated cheddar and I add it to the pasta with the pesto at the end so that it gently melts into the mix. Add your own variations to personalise your homemade pesto and create a recipe that reflects what you love to grow and eat. If you are using a pestle and mortar then break the leaves up a little bit first and crush the garlic. Or whiz the whole lot in a food processor.

Nasturtium pesto ingredients

  • Several handfuls of nasturtium leaves – choose the youngest leaves if you don’t like it too hot.
  • 1-2 small,  freshly dug garlic cloves, crushed.
  • 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • A handful or two of freshly shelled hazelnuts or toasted walnuts.
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated cheese of your choice

Method

Nasturtium pesto
Making nasturtium pesto

If you are only making a small batch then use a pestle and mortar and add the ingredients gradually mashing as you go. If you want to make a large batch then add the ingredients to your food processor and whiz it all together until roughly blended. If you like a little texture keep some of the nuts back and add them at the end.

Bottle into a clean screw top jar, cover with a layer of olive oil to keep the air out and keep in the fridge. It will keep for about 2-weeks.

When you are ready to use it, add some freshly made pasta to salted boiling water. Cook for three minutes and drain. Add 2-3 tablespoons of pesto to the hot pasta, plus a handful or two of your grated cheese and stir gently until well mixed. Serve immediately with fresh bread.

You can also use the pesto on home made pizza, in sauces, jacket potatoes and more.

These quantities are approximate experiment until you get the flavour just right.

This recipe is inspired by the Head Chef Damian Clisby from Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey. 

Jean Vernon

About Jean Vernon

Jean Vernon is a slightly quirky, bee friendly, alternative gardener. She doesn’t follow the rules and likes to push the boundaries a bit just to see what happens. She has a fascination for odd plants, especially edibles and a keen interest in growing for pollinators especially bees. She’s rather obsessed with the little buzzers. Telegraph Gardening Correspondent, mostly testing and trialing products and Editor-In-Chief for Richard Jackson’s Garden.
@TheGreenJeanie
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