Monday 8 October 2012

Nasturtium & Macadamia Nut Pesto

One of the things I most look forward to about spring is picking fresh nasturtium leaves and flowers to use in salads, sandwiches, stir-fries and egg salads. These lovely fresh peppery leaves grow in great profusion on banks and sidewalks here in Hout Bay, and I have no compunction about leaping out of my car and picking big bunches to take home.  (No one else seems to want them, and as they are not native to South Africa I feel no guilt at all in harvesting this free crop!)

Nasturtium leaves can be used to make a bright, peppery pesto. Spread your pesto
 on slicesof toasted bread, or toss it through hot pasta. 
I often use them to flavour home-made mayonnaise for my egg and fennel salad, but I've never made any other sort of sauce with them. The idea of a pesto occurred to me in the middle of the night (I often think about recipes in the wee hours) but I wasn't convinced it would work.  

Although nasturtium leaves have a powerful flavour - at least as pungent as that of basil -  I didn't know how they'd taste with garlic, and the idea of combining them with resiny pine nuts didn't appeal at all.  

So, when formulating the recipe, I used buttery, meek-flavoured macadamia nuts to tone down the pepperiness, and a modest single clove of garlic.  The result was a thick pesto of a glorious pistachio green, with an intriguing flavour and a satisfying zing.  I did find, however, that much of the pepperiness had faded by this morning, and that the olive oil, garlic and Parmesan flavours had pushed their way to the front. So this is a pesto for making in smallish quantities and serving immediately.

All the ingredients you need for a nasturtium pesto.
I slathered the pesto onto hot bruschetta, and served these with little fresh leaves, but I'm looking forward to trying it on a tangle of hot spaghetti, and with some pan-fried fish fillets.

I almost always make pestos in the old chemists' mortar that once belonged to my grandfather, but you can whizz this all up in a food processor or the jug attachment to a stick blender. Take care not to over-process it, however, or the nuts will become greasy and the pesto will lose its interesting texture.

This is a good choice of canapĂ© for surprising friends and family, who will probably not be able to guess the ingredients.  I made this for one of the courses I served at my 'Secret Supper' at the recent Spier Festival, and it was received with delight.  And if you leave out the toast and spread use this as a dip for veggie sticks, it's low-carb and suitable for diabetics.

Nasturtium & Macadamia Nut Pesto

1 cup (250 ml) whole unsalted macadamia nuts
1 clove garlic, peeled
a small pinch of flaky sea salt
2 cups (500 ml), fairly closely packed, fresh young nasturtium leaves and their stalks
8 Tbsp (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
30 g Parmesan, finely grated
the juice of half a lemon, or more, to taste
3 nasturtium flowers (for colour)

Put the nuts, garlic and salt into a mortar and pound until you have a coarse paste. Add the nasturtium leaves and continue pounding until you have a thick, slightly gritty paste. Add the olive oil tablespoon by tablespoon - you may not need to use it all - until the pesto is the desired consistency.  Stir in the Parmesan and lemon juice (to taste) and season with salt. As the Parmesan is already salty, go easy! You won't need to add any pepper.

Finely chop the nasturtium flowers and stir them into the pesto. Use within 8 hours for best results. It will still taste good the next day, but the peppery flavour will have receded somewhat (see my notes above).

Makes about 1½  cups.

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Kit said...

I'd never thought of making pesto with nasturtiums. Sounds delicious, and very healthy!
Nasturtium leaves are supposed to be good for sore throats, with some natural antibiotic in them and I love the flowers in salads.

janice tripepi said...

Well now, this is truly an inspired idea!! My nasturtiums are going buck wild in my herb garden at the mo .... me thinks I shall try this. Grazie cara xxx jan

Jane-Anne said...

Thanks Kit and Jan :-)

Colleen said...

WOW! What an interesting pesto. I have never been keen on the taste of nasturtium but I may just try this! Thanks for sharing xx

Leila Badsha said...

I am going to make it this weekend. My veggie garden is currently overgrown with them and your pesto sounds great. Thanks for sharing it.

Unknown said...

This is a fantastic idea... nasturtium grows in abundance and it's natural medicine! Making this pesto will also save, because macadamia is much cheaper than pine nuts, as far as I know... good job Jane-Anne

Tandy said...

we must have been having the same thoughts! Every day when I walk into my house I think about a pesto using the nasturtium leaves, as well as the wild rocket growing all over the place. I would have tried them with some almonds as that is my nut of choice, but the buttery macadamias sound great :)

Ethnic Food said...

Nasturtium & Macadamia Nut Pesto is scrumptious. LOve your post