Dandelion-chickweed pesto recipe by Mallory O’Donnell, a special guest on the Energya blog! Mallory and I have been talking for a while on Instagram about our shared passion for foraging and cooking.
Making an herb pesto is a great way to use the strong and assertive flavors of many wild greens and edible weeds in simple, everyday cooking. No wild plants really have the taste of basil, so attempting to make an imitation of the classic Genovese sauce shouldn’t be your goal. Instead you are looking to create an herb and nut sauce that can function the same way traditional pesto does, but with its’ own unique flavor.
Chickweed and dandelion are too very common edible plants in most temperate regions of the world. Indeed, both are often available in the fall as well as the spring. But while chickweed is reliably a fairly mild green, dandelions greens may vary from sharp and palatable to bitter and chewy. Generally speaking, I only collect dandelion greens before the flower emerges. Realistically, I try to collect them shortly after they emerge from the ground, and can be still used in a raw preparation like this one. Let your tastebuds be your guide–if the leaves taste too strong to you, then move to another plant.
I prefer to make this recipe with my native black walnuts, but pine nuts or even (so-called) English walnuts will do. If you don’t use black walnuts, I would recommend adding a few tablespoons of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or other sharp grating cheese. Other than the possible addition of cheese, this recipe is vegan.
Chickweed Dandelion Pesto Recipe
1 cup dandelion greens, washed and dried
1 cup chickweed, washed and dried
1/4 cup field garlic greens, washed and dried
I like to pulse the greens in a food processor, especially handy for field garlic, and then transfer the mixture to a mortar and pestle to grind in the other ingredients in the traditional manner. While food processors are usually to be avoided for tender basil, they are quite handy for some of the tougher, more resilient wild greens. If you don’t have a food processor, I recommend chopping the greens together very finely and then adding to the mortar along with the other ingredients.
Combine with greens and pound in a mortar :
1/4-1/3 cup black walnuts or pine nuts
1/4 tsp salt
2-4 tbs olive or black walnut oil
I usually add the first two tablespoons of oil to mix and spoon the pesto out of the mortar. I then will pour into a jar, and add one or two further tablespoons of oil to cover. Generally speaking, I like three tablespoons rather than four, but those who need a thinner sauce may prefer four our even more. When I need to thin this sauce out, either to make it go further or for consistency, I will mix a little hot pasta cooking water into the pesto, then dress the pasta or other dish.
This is excellent of course with hard pasta or gnocchi, potatoes, fish, eggs and chicken like most other pestos. Just don’t expect it to taste of basil!
Before you go… I have written a recipe for Mallory’s blog How To Cook a Weed, it’s my pizza dough and wild chives bread, have a look.
About Mallory O’Donnell
Mallory O’Donnell is an enthusiastic amateur cook, forager and gardener living in the wilds of western New Jersey, obsessed with incorporating sustainable, wild and edible garden ingredients and flavors into everyday home cooking, inspired by the humble flavors of internaional peasant and farmhouse cooking.