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Sustainable Life: Home-made pesto

Mia Swainson

Intense flavour and fresh, green goodness.  

There’s so much to love about home-made pesto. It’s easy to make, flavour combinations are as wild as your imagination and a dollop of home-made pesto transforms the mundane into gourmet.

Right now is the best time of year to plant herbs. Lots of herbs. Enough herbs so that you can cook with them every day… and make pesto! I like to scatter half a packet of seeds along a metre-long dripper. This time of year you can put in sweet basil and parsley. Scatter some eggshells or some organic-friendly snail pellets, to give your seedlings a chance to get ahead of slugs and snails when they first emerge. Keep the water coming regularly and you’ll have fresh herbs at Christmas time and bunches to give away in January.

Italian pesto 

The original flavour sensation is made with basil, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, salt and olive oil. Pesto was made in Italy long before food processors, with ingredients combined using a pestle and mortar.  A perfect way to bottle up summer’s goodness.  Italian pesto is great with pasta and on top of minestrone soup.

But there’s so much more to pesto than the traditional Italian version.  Here are some fresh ideas for homegrown and home-made pesto that are uniquely Australian.

Parsley and walnut pesto

Parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed.  Parsley grows best with rich soil and water.  It also grows just fine with neglect. If you let parsley go to seed, you’ll have tender parsley leaves popping up all over the garden.  Yum!

Walnuts grow best in Australia’s high country, where there are warm summers and cool winters.  You can pick up local walnuts from the EPIC farmers market. Fresh walnuts are creamy and rich, without the bitter taste that develops if they’re too old.

To make the pesto, combine 3 cups of flat leaved parsley (stalks in or out – up to you), 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup of walnuts and a clove of fresh garlic. Whiz it up, then add a pinch or two of salt to taste.  You’ll have about 120g of pesto.

Walnut pesto is perfect with spaghetti. It’s also great thrown in dollops on top of a chickpea salad.

Coriander and lemon pesto

Coriander is fussy to grow at home. When it’s too hot, it invests in flowers and seeds, rather than the leaves that we like to eat.  It needs rich soil and regular watering to produce tender leaves. It also doesn’t like to be transplanted, so it’s best grown from seed. This time of year, I’m using coriander that has been growing throughout the winter, alongside my garlic.

To make the pesto, combine 2 cups of coriander leaves (stalks included), the zest of ½ a small lemon, 1 kaffir lime leaf, 1 clove of garlic, ¼ cup of whole macadamia nuts and two tablespoons of Australian, extra virgin olive oil.   Whiz this up in a food processor or with a stick blender.  Add salt to taste.

Coriander and lemon pesto is perfect for fresh rice paper rolls.  It’s also great with leafy green salads.

Carrot leaves, basil and macadamia pesto

If you’ve got carrots in your kitchen garden or a local farmer’s market, then you’ll have access to baby carrot leaves.  Baby carrot leaves are soft and tender.  At home, you can harvest a few from each plant, leaving the carrots in the ground to continue growing.  Don’t use the leaves if they’ve turned stiff as they’ll make your pesto taste bitter and give a harsh texture.

Carrot leaves lighten the flavour of a traditional basil pesto.  This makes it better suited to stirring through a lentil salad or for adding that special burst of flavour to your lunchtime sandwich.

To make the pesto, combine 1 ½ cups of baby carrot leaves (stalks removed), 1 ½ cups of basil leaves, ¼ cup of Australian, extra virgin olive oil, 1/3 cup of macadamia nuts, 1 clove of garlic and salt to taste. Whiz this up, then add more olive oil, if needed.

The possibilities for home-made pesto are limitless. Experiment with leafy greens you’ve got in the garden and locally grown nuts to create a unique flavour sensation that’s bursting with goodness.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp).

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