Smile Politely

Make pesto out of it

By now you’ve seen the hipster-mocking Portlandia short, “Put a Bird On It,” in which the merits of adding meaningless bird stencils to home décor objects is praised at the expense of appreciating actual birds.

At some level, this is the status of pesto. It doesn’t matter that you can make a passable pesto with a food processor as opposed to grinding it by hand with a mortar and pestle. No, classic basil pesto has been deemed too difficult or at the very least, unhip. So, now there are pesto recipes featuring just about any vegetable or herb or combination thereof.

Sometimes they work well. Certainly a food processor can turn a mountain of spinach or Swiss chard into a tidy, compact paste in nothing flat. And while I cringe at the notion of foods being labeled trendy, as they will eventually be labeled passé and possibly become unavailable, I like the idea of being able to use up something that might otherwise go to waste.

For years, my sister couldn’t handle the pungency of traditional basil pesto and cut hers with spinach leaves. It’s hard to go wrong with basil and fresh greens. So before heading out for the weekend, I found myself tossing handfuls of basil, baby kale, spinach, and arugula in pesto one night.

A few weeks ago, a friend offered that her favorite no-fuss dinner was pasta with garlic scape pesto, no cheese or nuts, just olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic scapes. Garlic scapes are the flowering stocks of hard neck garlic that farmers remove lest the plants put their energy into blooming instead of forming bulbs. The scapes have the flavor of garlic without the heat. They have a sweetness like leeks and scallions. You can find them at the Saturday Market at the Square in Urbana, as well as at Common Ground Food Coop. You can use any leftover garlic scape pesto on potato salad or crostini.

Garlic Scape Pesto

  • 1 bunch/handful of garlic scapes, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put the garlic scapes into a food processor and process until chunky. Slowly add the olive oil and continue to process until the mixture becomes smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

However, the pesto that most intrigued me was one with fennel fronds, as I always think I am going to do something with them, but then they just sit in the produce drawer of my fridge and slowly dehydrate. If you don’t like anise, don’t make this. But if you do….

Fennel Frond Pesto

  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 c packed fennel fronds
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1 T lemon juice or more to taste
  • 1/4 t salt or more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place garlic and fennel fronds in food processor. Process. Slowly add olive oil until mixture turns into a paste. Add lemon juice, salt, and pepper to taste.

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