People can be protective about their pesto recipes and approaches. A little extra garlic or the special way they grind down the pesto? It's the magic touch. This is largely because pesto is so adaptable: you can create a signature pesto of your own using different nuts, greens, cheeses and spices. And that is exactly what we have here. I recently had the opportunity to sit in on a Cooking with Herbs class taught by cookbook author and amazing gardener, Willi Galloway. She wrote the popular cookbook Cook Eat Grow; in class, we made the pesto recipe in the book and she discussed the different kinds of pesto she's made at home. Her main point was that you really shouldn't feel limited to making pesto with just basil. Or pine nuts. Any green that you have around the garden or that you pick up at the market can be turned into pesto. And many different kinds of nuts and seeds make a wonderful pesto base — from walnuts to cashews to pumpkin seeds.
So I took her advice, and when we found ourselves with a nice bunch of dandelion greens, I thought I'd try and make a pesto with them. If you're not familiar with dandelion greens, they're slightly bitter and earthy on their own and are one of the heartier greens — like kale or even collard greens. We've been seeing them a lot here in the Pacific Northwest and I know my California family members have been getting them in their CSA boxes, so it was time to experiment with different ways to prepare and use them.
While I'll often make basil pesto with a mortar and pestle, you do need a food processor for this recipe because the dandelion leaves are heartier than the more delicate basil. Feel free to use traditional pine nuts if you like, but I've used pumpkin seeds here because I find their toastiness really balances out the slight bite of the dandelions — as does the lemon juice and parmesan cheese. It's a well-balanced pesto perfect for a simple pasta, sandwich spread or veggie dip.
Willi Galloway has a great tip for storing it to avoid that dark green/black layer that can form on the top of fresh pestos: lay plastic wrap coated with a little olive oil directly over the pesto and seal it in a container with an air-tight lid. The pesto will keep for 4-6 days this way, refrigerated, or several months frozen.
Dandelion Pumpkin Seed Pesto
Makes about 1 cup
3/4 cup unsalted hulled (green) pumpkin seeds
3 garlic gloves, minced
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 bunch dandelion greens (about 2 cups, loosely packed)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Black pepper, to tasted
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Pour the pumpkin seeds onto a shallow-rimmed baking sheet and roast until just fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Pulse the garlic and pumpkin seeds together in the bowl of a food processor until very finely chopped.
Add parmesan cheese, dandelion greens, and lemon juice and process continuously until combined. Stop the processor every now and again to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The pesto will be very thick and difficult to process after awhile — that's ok.
With the blade running, slowly pour in the olive oil and process until the pesto is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Related: Summer Flavor: 10 Ways to Use Pesto (Besides Pasta)
(Image: Megan Gordon)