Saturday, July 16, 2016

basil & garlic scape pesto

Friends, it's been a glorious summer in Alaska so far!  I've bounced between Juneau and Fairbanks and Anchorage soaking up sunshine, good food, and friendship along the way.  

My first summer living in Juneau has defied my expectations.  For the most part, the weather has been warm and inviting, with the occasional rain shower to keep everything green and lush (and the wild mushroom crop plentiful!) But what has really blown me away is the incredible bounty of wild edibles here in southeast Alaska.  It's AH-MAZING!  With my trusty furry, four-legged sidekick Milo at my side, we've foraged for nettles, devil's club buds, beach asparagus, salmonberries, cloudberries, and most recently the early blueberry crop. I made an fantastic nettle pesto (still have some in the freezer!), pickled the devils club buds and the beach asparagus, and plan to make salmonberry jam as soon as I find the energy.  So far, I've just been munching on the cloudberries, which are tart and creamy.

Clockwise from top left: early southeast Alaska blueberries, beach asparagus, salmonberries, and cloudberries

A bundle of garlic scape
I have a little spare time on this Saturday, which is on of my favorite things in the world.  Last week I made a stop at Rainbow Foods, a terrific local health food store in Juneau, and came across some garlic scapes.  I had no idea I'd be able to find them in Juneau!!  Tastes like garlic, but greener and milder.  I've chopped them up and added them to stir fries before, but recently read that they make a great pesto. I'd also picked up one of those live basil plants last week at the grocery store, so I thought I'd do a combination basil-garlic scape pesto.  It turned out even better than I expected, and so easy to make that I was able to carry on a long-distance phone call with my friend Meagan while throwing it together.  The bright, herbal basil paired with the green garlic scape is a perfect flavor combination.  I had to force myself to stop tasting it repeatedly because its SO GOOD!!

As I type this sentence, I'm swallowing the last yummy mouthful of this pesto on rustic Fire Island Bakery baguette.  Happy Saturday to me!

Basil & Garlic Scape Pesto

(Makes one pint)

2 cups basil leaves
2 tablespoons parsley leaves
1/2 cup chopped garlic scapes
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1/2 cup pine nuts
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

In a smal saucepan over medium heat, toast cloves of garlic until brown spots appear on the outside, about 6-8 minutes.  Once cool, the peel comes off easily.

In that same pan, toast pine nuts over low heat for 4-6 minutes, until golden brown.

Place all ingredients, save for the oil and cheese, in a food processor and pulse 15-20 times until combined.  Slowly pour in oil until incorporated.  Add cheese and pulse a couple times.  

ps...gratuitous picture of Milo(sevic), the little war criminal, on a break from blueberry picking to check out the ocean. <3

Enjoy! xo h

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

wild alaska! stinging nettle pesto

Behold! The delicious, if not tricky, stinging nettle plant.  Tasty little sucker!

It's springtime in Alaska!  Here in Juneau everything has come back to life from the rainy, dreary, soggy wet days of "winter."

(I refuse to acknowledge that we actually had winter when I barely saw traces of snow.  Winter my left toe, Mother Nature.)

I've well-documented my excitement for foraging here on the blog-- PEOPLE, IT'S FREE FOOD-- but Juneau, with its lush rainforests, is a mecca for a forager's soul.  Fiddleheads!  Devil's club buds! Fireweed shoots! Nettles!

Who needs a garden?!

With my trusty sidekick Milo at my side, we set out to gather our bounty.  And by we, I mean Milo explored the wilderness and picked a fight with a whippet while I did all the actual work.  We each have our roles, I suppose. 

Milo: Slacker.
I found an avalanche shoot not too far from where we live and the nettles were in abundance!  Making sure to wear gloves (their sting is not harmful but hurts like a mother), I picked two heaping grocery bags full in no time.

There are so many ways to use nettles.  They just need a quick steam, sauté, or boil to nip the sting.  You can use them in soups, frittatas, or substitute them just about anywhere you use spinach.  They're my favorite spring edible.

With such a huge bounty, I settled on making a pesto.  While there are loads of recipes on the internet for nettle pesto, I settled on this one from Persephone Farm in Washington State.  I loved it!  I will say that I didn't adhere to the recipe entirely.  Perhaps an extra garlic clove and a bit more squeeze of lemon made it into my pesto.  I think it's  best to make the recipe, taste it, and then add to it what you like to please your taste buds.  Maybe you want a little extra parmesan or a dash more of salt?  Go for it!

(And for more information about stinging nettles, check out this page from the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.)

Stinging Nettle Pesto

1/4 pound stinging nettles (weigh them dry!)
1-2 garlic cloves (depending on your taste)
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (or to taste)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium-low heat for 4-5 minutes, or until they turn lightly brown (being careful not to burn them like my first batch. Oops). Set aside.

Set a large pot of water to boil.  Gently boil the nettles for 1 minute.  Drain, then place immediately in a large bowl of ice water (this will set the pretty green color and stop the cooking).  Drain in a colander.  Use clean paper towels to squeeze out as much water from the nettles as possible.

Place all ingredients in a food processor, and whir up until smooth.  Adjust ingredients to your liking (I like extra garlic and lemon) and season with salt and pepper to taste.  

Spread on toasted baguette, homemade pizza, or toss with pasta.  This pesto freezes well, too!


xo h