Sunday, May 25, 2008

Invasive Pesto

Instead of the leisurely three-day vacation that many people are taking this Memorial Day weekend, I've been out on the Farm, helping the Renaissance Man and the neighbors with some serious timber cleanup and wood-splitting. It's not my usual weekend activity, of course, but it makes a nice change of pace.

That doesn't mean I've neglected the kitchen, though, and it didn't stop me from a mid-morning foraging stroll while the others wielded their chainsaws.

I wandered back into the woods to visit familiar wild edibles and to scout out new ones, but I ended up picking wild greens through the hedgerows and the grove closest to the house.

I found more lambs' quarters along with tangy wood sorrel and chickweed, plus a few violets for color, all of which I rinsed before tossing together as a quick undressed salad.

My main mission for the weekend, though, was to find patches of garlic mustard -- an
invasive species that runs rampant in this area of the country -- and I had no problem in tracking down plenty.

When I had first read through my book on wild edibles (that would be
Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not So Wild) Places by "Wildman" Steve Brill) a couple years ago, the garlic mustard jumped out at me since I had plenty around my compost bin. I wasn't impressed at the time (it's not really garlicky enough for me), but finding a recipe for garlic mustard pesto over at Grist recently caused me to give it a second glance.

I harvested only a small number of plants for taste testing and took them into the kitchen to wash. Aside from the difference in greens, the recipe stays the same, using garlic, nuts (I like walnuts), cheese, pepper, and olive oil.

Mostly, it tastes about the same as regular pesto, though more on the sharp side than the fragrant basil side. (NOTE 5/27: After the first day, the mustardy flavor of the greens really comes through more strongly, which may not be to everyone's taste.) The Renaissance Man and I agreed that while it was good, we liked the chickweed version (and, of course, the original) better.

It makes you think, though, that maybe even invasive species can have their uses when they have to be ripped out. The leaves themselves can be added raw to salads for a kick not unlike mizuna or other gourmet greens, and I'll have to do some thinking as to what else that hint of mustard flavor would enhance. (Any ideas?)

And maybe eating the darn things will discourage them from growing! (Or maybe not...)



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