Arugula Pesto

The arugula I recently harvested and turned into pesto was planted last September in the hoop house. The hoop house is a plastic covered frame big enough to walk into, with doors at the ends. It is warm and bright in February and March, and tiny plants from seed I sowed last September begin to grow as soon as the days get longer and the hoop house warms up in stronger sun.

My neighbor Nancy Wuori and I shared the space. We both put in carrots, lettuce, and spinach; I added onions, scallions, arugula and a little green called claytonia or miner’s lettuce. The lettuce from last fall is gone now and the early spring sowing of lettuce in the space is now maturing. I have been eating salad since March with succulent little claytonia leaves, spicy arugula and a couple different lettuces, red and green.

The warmer the weather, however, the more rampant the arugula became. The variety I grew is called Sylvetta and has dark green, ferny leaves, tolerates a lot of picking and keeps on producing. The past two weeks though, it has wanted to nothing but go to seed, so Toby and I harvested the last of it to make room for tomatoes and peppers in the hoop house, and so the dilemma arose: what to do with all that arugula? I made pesto.
Most of us think of pesto as a basil flavored paste, as indeed it is, but essentially any pesto is a paste of ground up herbs or greens, seasoned with garlic, smoothed with olive oil, enhanced with ground nuts or seeds, and enriched with parmesan cheese. Lots of folks just put it on pasta, a perfectly good thing to do with it.

I find, though, that pesto can be added to mayonnaise for a dressing, whipped into cream cheese or dolloped on top of goat cheese for a spread with crackers, dropped into any bland soup that needs a bit of flavor boost, folded into a pasta or potato salad, even dropped into scrambled eggs. It is such a useful, all-purpose flavor booster that having some around all the time is a really good idea.

The way I figure it, if I am going to use pesto as a pasta sauce, then I think it must have parmesan in it. If I think I am going to use it just to jazz up other recipes, then I don’t add parmesan because the cheese adds to the expense. I suppose what I am producing isn’t really pesto if it doesn’t have the cheese. Too bad.

Our first pesto blew our own socks off. For the second batch, I left out two of the garlic cloves we first used, and I switched around the spinach and arugula quantities. If you think you would enjoy a more muscular arugula pesto, then, by all means, jack up the garlic and use more arugula than spinach. Just remember I warned you.

Arugula Pesto
2 cups packed spinach leaves,
1 cup packed arugula leaves,
4 cloves of garlic
½ cup walnuts, broken or coarsely chopped
½ to ¾ cup olive oil
½ cup of Parmesan
Put the spinach, arugula, garlic, and nuts in a food processor and process, gradually adding the olive oil until it forms a bright green, smooth, spreadable paste. Fold in the parmesan if you wish or store the pesto in a container with a tight fitting lid and add it when you are ready to use it.
Makes about 2 cups.

Sandy Oliver

About Sandy Oliver

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working Waterfront. Besides freelance food writing, she is a pioneering food historian beginning her work in 1971 at Mystic Seaport Museum, where she developed a fireplace cooking program in an 1830s house. After moving to Maine in 1988, Sandy wrote, Saltwater Foodways: New Englanders and Their Foods at Sea and Ashore in the 19th Century published in 1995. She is the author of The Food of Colonial and Federal America published in fall of 2005, and Giving Thanks: Thanksgiving History and Recipes from Pilgrims to Pumpkin Pie which she co-authored with Kathleen Curtin. She often speaks to historical organizations and food professional groups around the country, organizes historical dinners, and conducts classes and workshops in food history and in sustainable gardening and cooking. Sandy lives on Islesboro, an island in Penobscot where she gardens, preserves, cooks and teaches sustainable lifeways.