Flame-thrower, Day-Torch, Mauna Loa, I saw a daring bee, today, pause, and soar, Into your flaming heart.
– Anne Spencer from her poem, Lines to a Nasturtium
Nasturtiums are wonderful little plants.
They belong to the genus Tropaeolum, but are commonly known by the name nasturtium. Interestingly, this is the Botanical name for another genus of plants which include watercress. This is because nasturtiums were named by the Europeans who used them like watercress in salad. The word nasturtium literally means “nose twister or nose tweaker.”
Nasturtiums are native to South American, but because of their beauty and tastiness, they have been introduced to gardens all over the world. I lived in Portugal for several months last year and adjacent to the path that I walked everyday, was a huge patch of nasturtiums. I often stooped to pop a flower in my mouth and the spicy flavor would open my sinuses with powerful nose tweaking action.
Both the flowers and the leaves are edible, and they add a delicious and beautiful bite to a salad. I like to float the leaves (which look like baby lily pads) on top of a bowl of soup. They also can be made into delicious pesto which this post is of course about.
Pesto is one of my favorite things to make because it is just so versatile. The basic ingredients are leaves, nuts or seeds, oil, garlic, citrus, and salt. A bit of good Parmesan is also a lovely addition. Some of my favorite leaves to use in pesto (aside from nasturtium) are chickweed, cilantro, moringa, arugala, and basil.
Here’s how you make pesto:
2 cloves garlic (or more as you like it)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon (or more as you like it)
1/2- 1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nuts or seeds (toast them for more flavor)
3/4-1 1/2 cup good olive oil (You’ll really be able to taste it so use the good stuff!)
4 cups leaves
Optional: 1/4 fresh grated Parmesan (note Parmesan is salty so you may need a little less salt)
Add everything except the leaves to a mortar and pestle. Grind into a paste. Then slowly incorporate leaves. Keep grinding. It will take awhile. Or, for a more speedy method. Put everything in a food processor and whir away. Add more oil for a thinner pesto and more leaves for a thicker pesto.
I’d love to hear your favorite pesto combinations. If you’ve made an interesting pesto, please write about it in the comments section!