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.