22 June 2010

Modern Alchemy and Radish Leaf Pesto


For centuries alchemists tried to turn base metals into gold and discover the elixir of life, a preoccupation that ebbed perhaps with modern science, but still features often in modern fiction. It seems to me that it's not just the end result that's important, but the fact of starting with nothing, or something that isn't worth anything. Actually, this may be what seduces people about magic in general, making something wonderful out of something useless (a ball dress out of a rag, a sparkling coach and four out of a pumpkin and mice). It's something children are quite good at - "let's say the slide is a castle and under it is the dungeon!" - and something postmodern artists try very hard to recapture.

But, of course, the easiest way to perform this sort of transformation magic, is cooking. The whole point of putting together ingredients is to come up with something better than the sum of its parts. Often the ingredients are magic in themselves: fresh fruit and veggies in season, choice cuts of meat, dark chocolates, fragrant wines and oils. But not always...


The idea for making radish leaf pesto came from a comment Camille left on my post about Delicate Radish Leaf Soup. Already, I was excited to have found a use for a part of the radish I had been previously throwing way, but I have to say I felt like a true alchemist after making this radish pesto. Here were these prickly, unappetizing green leafy things turning into something divine that could be used in a hundred different ways (see photos for a couple of the ones I tried). Pure culinary magic!


Do any of you have recipes like that? Ones that start with an unassuming ingredient, or one that you don't very much like, and end up amazing? I'm pretty sure every foodie has a bit of alchemist in there somewhere.


Radish Leaf Pesto

2 cups radish leaves, washed and tightly packed
1/2 cup walnuts (or your nut of choice)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (or the hard cheese of your choice)
1/2 cup olive oil
pepper to taste


Put the radish leaves, nuts, garlic and cheese in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth. Add the olive oil in a thin stream while pulsing until you reach the desired consistency. (Some people like it more or less thick. It also depends what you plan to do with it!) Add pepper to taste. (I don't add salt because the cheese is salty, but taste it and see what you think.) Adjust balance as desired.

Serve with pretty much anything you like: on pasta, on fish, in salads. You name it, pesto probably makes it better.

12 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

You are right! That pesto is fantastic! I love radish leaves...

Cheers,

Rosa

Ivy said...

Great idea. I've made a pesto with purslane in the past which was great and only recently made a pesto using a variety of vegetables including radishes but only the root.

Julie said...

Hi! You're so creative, all these uses for things I throw away. I will have to try this one text time.

croquecamille said...

Hey, thanks for the shout out! Now I see that I rudely never responded to your request for a recipe, but it looks like you managed ok. I made mine with pine nuts, and some lemon juice, but otherwise it's pretty much the same. I actually got the idea from Chocolate & Zucchini, but really only used her recipe for inspiration. (I don't like measuring if I don't have to.)

Tony said...

Woohoo! I wondered if this was what you did when you told me you made something else with radish leaves. On the topic of pesto made of things you thought you couldn't eat - you can also make pesto with stinging nettles (just blend them first so they don't sting you). Other things: You can make bread using acorns. Japanese knotweed is an invasive species around here and it tastes like rhubarb so you can substitute it for rhubarb in most recipes - I've got a coffeecake recipe that I'm hoping to test it on soon. There's lots more but I'm not going to keep babbling in your blog. Cool stuff, though :)

Hopie said...

Rosa - Me too now!

Ivy - I recently bookmarked your pepper pesto. I'm just starting to make pesto with greens besides basil and a whole new world is opening up!

Julie - Maybe your husband will go for pesto faster than radish leaf soup :-)

Camille - Yeah, I figured it out. Well I certainly HOPE you don't make it with walnuts. I didn't have any pine nuts is all - they're what I usually use too. I've never put lemon though juice though. I bet that would be good. Or a little lemon zest...

Tony - Oh please do babble :-) Yeah radish leaves remind me a bit of the texture of stinging nettles, so I bet they make good pesto too. Hm, I've never tried cooking with Japanese knotweed. When do I get to taste this coffee cake!

Just Cook It said...

That's very clever indeed. Recently did something similar with rocket but radish leaves? brilliant

Hopie said...

Alex - Why thank you! Must be the season for creative pesto.

agrigirl said...

That is a remarkable idea that I have never heard of and will definitely try - radish leaf pesto! And I love Ivy's idea of using purslane - what an omega hit.

Hopie said...

Agrigirl - I hope you like it! I've never tried with purslane. Now I want to experiment with all different pestos!

Kate said...

I started making this last summer and I just felt so dang smart. I even got to use radish leaves from my own garden, and reaped the benefits for a good 4 months of late fall and winter.

FYI- you can freeze the radish greens and still use them for pesto. I just try and keep a 1:1 ratio of fresh to frozen leaves. It's great for times you pull out one or two radishes for a salad.

giz said...

Who would have thought - I've never tried using the radish leaves...but I will now. Thanks for the instant education. I use beet leaves to make beet leaf rolls and they're fabulous.