EAT LOCAL: Dark Leafy Greens Pesto

Leafy green pesto on pasta

If you’re skeptical of dark green leafy pesto, we recommend mixing it with hot pasta, half a cup of pasta water, and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan. Photo by Daniele Sgura

Publisher’s note: Thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Local Food Promotion Program, Berkshire Agricultural Ventures, which supports local farms and food businesses, partnered with Berkshire Organics, a Pittsfield-based company that operates a home delivery service to make local produce, nutrient-rich and delicious foods accessible to every household in the Berkshires. The Edge is pleased to support the promotion of local food and feature an article by Shaun Opperman, who co-owns Berkshire Organics with his wife. Because he spends his days coordinating with farmers, ranchers, bakers, and food artisans to source the highest-quality, most interesting ingredients the Berkshires have to offer, his style of cooking revolves around our region’s offerings in a Given moment.

Shaun Opperman working in the kitchen
Shaun Opperman working in the kitchen

When deciding what to cook for my family, I often operate with the wisdom that healthy food with lots of seasonal fruits and vegetables makes us feel better. The idea that “food is medicine” is not new. For my part, I try not to overthink it and instead just cook what I know is in season here in the Berkshires. During the Berkshire apple season, usually in September and October, I can maintain the “one apple a day” mentality. But right now, I’m feeding my family the wide variety of vegetables Berkshire farmers are currently harvesting: kale, collard greens, spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, as well as herbs like parsley, cilantro, and dill.

You’ve heard it a million ways: fill your plate with dark green leafy vegetables. Most of the healthy eating literature touts the importance of dark greens and the role these vitamin-rich vegetables play in a healthy diet. These vegetables are rich in fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and are also packed with antioxidants that help protect our cells from damage. Magnesium, potassium, iron, calcium… they’re all there too. Did you know that they have more fiber than cereal grains? They really are a powerhouse. When you eat locally grown vegetables, the ones that arrive in your kitchen freshly picked from nearby farms, you get plant vitality in its most nutritious form. Did you know that the nutrient content of a vegetable decreases as it is stored and shipped? When you cook with local ingredients, you’re eating vegetables closer to their harvest date, often just a day after a farmer harvests them. We deliver vegetables that are still alive! All this to say: the time to eat their dark leaves in the Berkshires is now, while they are in season.

If you’re like me, some nights dinner is more functional than formal. The quickest way to get nutritious vegetables on the table at home is usually a simple garlic stir-fry. I’m not necessarily here to criticize the plain stir fry…it’s one of our staples. But there’s another way to easily incorporate veggies into your meal that’s just a few degrees more complicated than mincing garlic: the big veggie blitz. Blending, blending, or food-processing dark green leafy vegetables, with the addition of a few more ingredients, can make a sauce that works like pesto. A sauce that has infinite possibilities. You can spread it on a pizza, mix it into pasta, or put it in eggs. It’s a great base for shrimp stir fry or a topping for baked potatoes. You can stir it into mayonnaise for a tomato sandwich, add a dollop to tuna salad, or mix a little into meatballs. You can simmer a salsa verde with a can of coconut milk and serve it over rice, or mix a generous amount into a pot of soup or beans. The best part? A salsa verde bombardment (especially one that is dairy-free) freezes well, giving you plenty of options for future meals and for times when local greens are less plentiful, or when you have a newborn baby at home, like I do now.

The basic formula I use is similar to pesto: blanched (or leftover, sautéed) vegetables mixed with olive oil, a walnut, herbs and parmesan, pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, walnuts…even pepitas will do. Traditional basil pesto doesn’t include lemon juice, but I always include lemon in a vegetable blitz if I have one on hand. If not, you can add a dash of vinegar to brighten things up. But a pesto-like sauce is just the beginning. You can certainly take this idea to bombard your greens and skip the season. You don’t like nuts? Just out of Parmesan cheese? Instead of pesto, take your greens in the direction of an Italian salsa verde: mix dark leafy greens with a bunch of parsley, a shallot, something pickled (like capers or pickles), red pepper flakes, and maybe a steak. of anchovy. Do you have a keen herb garden? Combine equal parts dark leafy greens with a mix of baby herbs like parsley, cilantro, dill, oregano, and a little more red wine vinegar for something akin to chimichurri. Many corners of the world have a version of a blitzed salsa verde, and there’s no reason not to lean into this method of eating your greens this season.

A blender helps to make green leafy vegetable pesto
A blender works great for making your leafy green pesto, although an immersion blender or food processor will also work. Photo by Jan Sedivy

Dark Green Leafy Pesto

Blanching vegetables before processing will help preserve their color. Truth be told, that’s all the whitening process does. When boiling water and ice baths seem too finicky, it’s okay to skip this step. Most of the time, my green “pesto” is actually made with leftover sautéed vegetables from last night’s dinner.

This recipe is easily doubled and can even be made with a combination of dark green leafy vegetables.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large bunch of dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach, arugula, Swiss chard, kale, or collard greens
  • ½ cup of walnuts
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Juice of about half a lemon (~2-3 tablespoons), plus a little zest
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
  • Sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • Optional: A generous handful of fresh herbs such as parsley, dill, or basil; red pepper flakes

Addresses:

  1. Prepare your vegetables. If you’re working with kale, collard greens, or Swiss chard that have a thicker stem, remove the stem from the leaves. Here are a couple of options: Blanch the stems until tender and include them in the sauce, or save them for tomorrow night’s stir-fry. (Or freeze them for storage.)
  2. Blanch your vegetables. In a large pot of boiling water, plunge vegetables for about 30 seconds, until wilted. Transfer to an ice bath. Once cool, remove and drain excess water.
  3. In a blender, food processor, or bowl with an immersion blender, add the blanched vegetables and the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust the salt and acid, adding more salt or lemon juice as needed. If the pesto is too thick, you can add more olive oil, or even a splash of water.

Pesto keeps in the fridge in a sealed glass container for at least a week. Or freeze for up to 4 months.

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