Monday, July 27, 2009

Mustard Greens Pesto

Summertime used to be like one of those dumb Countrytime Lemonade commercials. All sepia toned with oldtimey oboe music and tire swings. Summertime now is a never-ending cycle of work-house-yard-fish-canning-work-garden-deer-work-sleep. It's a rhythm you get into here where a person is busy all summer and sort of lazes all winter.

Example: this weekend I put up a flat of peaches, a flat of strawberries, processed 3 king salmon (includes freeing most of the fillets, making lox, and smoking the bellies and collars), weeded the garden, made brioche, burned a huge pile of plywood in the yard, picked mustard greens to make 8 cups of pesto, all after working a 60 hour week in the field. My dear old husband called me a maniac because all this required getting up at 530 every day. I can only maintain this pace because I know it will end in about 8 weeks and I can go back to knitting and making complicated desserts.

And onto the real reason for this entry: Mustard Green Pesto. The abundant sunshine this summer helped to produce an unreal amount of mustard greens. Like way, way more than we could reasonably eat. (Especially since we've been eating greens twice a day for two weeks.)This is a picture of my garden after I picked all the greens for the pesto. (FYI, raspberries have started, peas are finally taking off, and I can't keep up with the arugula.)

I read around the various nooks and crannies of the interweb about pesto. Those much better at food than I said that pesto = nuts+hard cheese+oil+greenstuff. I really, really wanted a way to stretch my garden beyond the growing season and there's only so blocks of frozen blanched greens a body can take (current count is 5). So, pesto!

The dirty fisherman and I spent an evening wrapping the greens around various nuts and whatnot to figure out the best combination. Mustard greens are garlicky and bitter so they needed a neutral to slightly sweet nut. We even tried mixing mustard greens and mint but that was gross. Eventually, we settled on almonds and asiago cheese.

Full disclosure: my mother-in-law is in town so when I say "me" I mean the royal "me" which actually means "us."

We made an experimental batch last week to figure out the proportions. I sort of view this recipe as more of a formula to be sized up or down based on the quantity of ingredients on hand.

Mustard Greens Pesto*

1 cup packed clean, dry mustard greens
1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
1/4 cup Asiago cheese**
2 cloves garlic
5 Tablespoons olive oil***

* This quadruples nicely as I found out

** or whatever hard cheese suits your fancy. I live in Monty Pythons Cheese Shop sketch so my cheese options are limited.

*** (Yesss footnotesss) This makes a very thick pesto, if you plan on using this immediately over pasta, you may need to add more oil.

Chief is clean, dry greens with their stems removed, almonds, cheese, garlic, and olive oil. I left salt out because I prefer to season at the end of dishes and I wasn't worried about any preservation due to the crapload of oil I (we) added.

We had to grind all the ingredients in batches so we didn't over process the greens or nuts. First we ground the nuts, cheese, and garlic to a medium-grind consistency.
This only took a couple of pulses.
Then process the greens to a fine chopped mass. (If you're only making this recipe with 1 cup of greens you can ignore the batches thing, but the order of work is the same).
Pulse the greens so that you get as even a chop as possible. Every food processor is different so do what's best with your machine.
If your doing the batch thing dump it all back into the bowl of the processor and drizzle the oil in with the machine running. Try to balance trickling the oil in without making a paste, you still want some identifiable chunks.

At this point you can season it how you wish (olives, serranos, salt, whatever). At first we omitted the garlic because mustard greens are pretty darn strong, but the first batch had a garlic-shaped hole. Be warned, this tastes very sharp and bright right at first. It mellows considerably after sitting in the fridge for a day, let alone the freezer for a month. My plan is to use this as a base and add to it as needed.
I froze the pesto in small canning jars and in an ice cube tray for later. You can preserve it in your chosen method, or use it right away.

We eat a lot of game so I see this as a base for the crust over roasts. I can also see adding capers or peppers to have this over pasta. Whatever works. With the success of mustard greens this summer I hope this recipe grows with me and gets adjusted as I learn more about cooking. Right now, I'm just happy to have it done and in the freezer.

Major, major aside: I made a tart from the Martha Stewart baking Book and it was terrible. Like the tart crust (followed perfectly) was too dry, but all of the crusts from that book end up too dry. I thought it was me but the fat:flour ratio is wrong. Peter Reinhart talks about a 3-2-1 ratio for pie crusts that didn't exist in Martha's altered magic fat world. Also, the pasty cream from her book suuuucks. Somehow it didn't set up like it was supposed to. Never, never again. I will be using Larousses tried and true pastry cream recipe in the future. What a bloody waste of a vanilla bean. Does anybody else get really upset when a recipe doesn't work?

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