Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Busy Days of May and a recipe for Arugula Pesto

I have been absent from my blog for a little while longer than I would like. Professionally, it has been a busy spring...which is really great for me...but not so great for my blog. Also, my garden is calling. I love spending time there and in recent days, when I have had a choice between the blog and the garden, the garden won.

I have not abandoned the blog...I enjoy it too much... I actually have pictures and a lot of ideas for new posts (I'm always cooking), just no time to write about them. I thought I would write a brief post today so that anyone who might have been wondering would know that I haven't quit.

This has been an unusually good year for greens at the market...we have been so cool and cloudy, and in the past couple of weeks, damp. We have had beautiful chard, spinach, kale and delicate little lettuces like I have never seen before at my market. Particularly lovely this year is the arugula. It is tender and nutty and is only just now acquiring a bit of heat. The season has been long and I have enjoyed it immensely.

A couple of days ago I made some arugula pesto and tossed it with some potato gnocchi and asparagus for a quick lunch.

I made gnocchi in preparation for a class this week and had enough left over to freeze a few servings. I don't have time to go into the details of potato gnocchi today, but it is definitely one of the things I plan on posting about in the near future. Today, I'm just focusing on the arugula pesto.

I think I might even like arugula pesto better than basil pesto—at least when the arugula is as fine as it has been this year. Basil pesto can be quite aromatic and strong—which makes it a great compliment to the vibrant and strong flavors of the summer and early autumn vegetable palate. Asparagus though, can be overwhelmed by it. The arugula pesto, being more nutty than aromatic in character, made a more suitable companion for the asparagus.

For lunch yesterday I used some of the remaining pesto to make an arugula variation of a basil pesto pizza out of a favorite little cookbook by Janet Fletcher called Fresh from the Farmers' Market. I have never made the basil version of this pizza, but I find it hard to believe it would be much better than my arugula variation. It made a great lunch—fast, easy and not too heavy. I think it would make a great appetizer for a party. If you wanted a more substantial pizza, you could add a layer of a few sliced, poached or roasted potatoes or sliced, roasted artichokes. The color of this pizza is beautiful too. I love Fletcher's trick of brushing the pesto on the finished pizza rather than exposing the pesto to the fiery heat of an oven at pizza temperature where it would turn brown.

Last summer I posted a recipe for linguine with basil pesto, new potatoes and green beans—a Ligurian classic. In the past I have made an early summer version of this dish (before the green beans arrive) with sugar snap peas. It occurs to me that there is a brief moment, while the arugula is still mild and the peas and potatoes are just coming into the market, that you could make a late spring version of this dish with arugula pesto. That moment appears to be now. I came home from the market yesterday morning with the first new potatoes of the season and I noticed that a few vendors had peas. In any case, there is not yet any basil to be had for the more traditional version. Our spring which has been so nice for arugula, has not been so great for basil. I overheard one of the growers laugh when someone asked her about basil and say "You need sunshine for that!"

Pesto can of course be made with a myriad of combinations of herbs (or greens), nuts and aged cheeses....and obviously uses for the many incarnations of pesto abound. For a class this past week I prepared a spring, minestrone-style soup (all green vegetables) that I finished with a swirl of pesto made with half arugula and half spinach.

Cutting the arugula with half spinach is a good option for softening the heat of an arugula pesto as the arugula begins to get spicy when the weather warms up. Besides dressing pasta and pizzas and garnishing soups, pesto can be stirred into sauces, added to vegetable purées and sautés, stirred into risotto, brushed/drizzled over grilled or sautéed fish or folded into mayonnaise and then smeared on a sandwich. I could go on. But because the garden...

and work...are calling, I won't.  But if you whip up a fresh batch, you too will soon find all kinds of spring foods that are made even better by a spoonful of arugula pesto.

Arugula Pesto

1 1/2 c. packed arugula leaves (about 1 1/2 ounces), washed and dried
1/3 c. lightly toasted walnuts (or you may use the more traditional pine nuts)
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/3 c. grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino
Salt, to taste

Place the arugula, walnuts and garlic in the food processor and process until the ingredients are finely and evenly chopped (stop the food processor a couple of times to scrape down the sides) to a coarse purée.

With the food processor running, add the oil in a thin stream. Scrape down the sides; add the cheese and pulse to combine. Add salt to taste.  Makes about 3/4 cup. Pesto will keep in the refrigerator about a week, covered with a film of olive oil.

Printable Recipe

Arugula Pesto Pizza

2 oz. of a good melting cheese...low-moisture Mozzarella, Fontina, Monterey jack, Jarlsberg, Gouda, etc...alone or a combination....coarsely shredded
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
50 g. (scant quarter cup) Arugula pesto
olive oil for brushing

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F an hour before you plan to bake the pizza. If you made the dough ahead, pull it out of the refrigerator when you turn on the oven.

To build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan or baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with semolina, fine cornmeal, or flour. Using your fingers, push up the edges of the dough to make a slight rim. Brush the rim lightly with olive oil.

In a medium-sized bowl, toss all of the cheeses together. Spread the cheese mixture evenly over the crust, leaving a half-inch rim bare. Place the pizza in its pan on the pizza stone in the pre-heated oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 8 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, after the crust has set (4 or 5 minutes), slide the pizza off of the pan to finish cooking directly on the pizza stone.

While the pizza is baking, check the consistency of the pesto. If it is very stiff, let it out with a teaspoon or two of olive oil. When the pizza is done, remove from the oven and immediately brush the surface of the pizza with the pesto—the back of a spoon works well for this. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve. Serves 2.

Potato Gnocchi with Asparagus and Arugula Pesto

For each serving:
2 T. arugula pesto (or to taste)
2 to 3 oz. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths on the diagonal
4 oz. potato gnocchi
minced toasted walnuts, freshly grated Parmesan and olive oil for garnish

Place the pesto in a large bowl and set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add the asparagus and cook until tender—about 3 minutes. Lift out and transfer to an oiled plate. Add the gnocchi to the same water and stir to make sure it isn't sticking to the bottom. After the gnocchi float to the top, continue to cook for one minute. Using a mesh skimmer or sieve, transfer the gnocchi to the plate with the asparagus.

Add a few tablespoons of the cooking water to the bowl with the pesto—enough to give the pesto a thin sauce consistency. Add the asparagus and gnocchi and gently toss to coat. Transfer to a plate and garnish with walnuts, cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.


Katrina said...

I'd wondered if you fled the Midwest to get away from all those storms! ;) This makes me want to make that gnocchi!

Paige said...

Nope, still here. We have been so fortunate that most of the bad storms have missed the Kansas City area!

Paige said...

Thank you Chris...I wish I had more time to spend with them!!