Turnip Green Pesto With Walnuts and Pumpkin Seeds

After this long winter, Andreae Prozesky is ready to eat almost anything local and green.

So I’m walking up Parade Street, on my way to the Sobeys on Merrymeeting, thinking about local food and the growing and sharing thereof. Tra-la-la, I skip along, dreaming of lovely urban gardens and of getting one’s hands dirty in the production of one’s own happy harvest of greens and roots and fruits and such. Even here on the rocky, forbidding Avalon, it can be done.

Unfortunately, not much of it can be done until at least July.

By the time I hit the parking lot, it dawns on me that the ingredients I’m picking up for our supper of pasta with spinach-walnut pesto will have been trucked and shipped and wrangled in from far afield. Not only that, but the spinach, if it doesn’t harbour E. Coli bacteria, will at the very least be packed into either that crinkly cellophane, which you can neither reuse nor recycle, or one of those plastic bricks, which can be reused for a while, and eventually recycled, but how many of them can I really use, and for what?

Despair follows me into the produce aisle, to where the homesick, wilting greens are propped under aggressive tube lights. They, though, are faring better than the sturdier braising greens, which are being drenched from above with water misters at regular intervals until their cut ends curl up and go slimy (I’ve asked the Sobeys people about this on three occasions and nobody seems to have an explanation or the will to reset the mister).

But, then, around the corner, hope.

Forming a border along an aisle of veggies-from-away is a bank of homey-looking bags of bright green leaves. The turnip greens are here! They came in by truck, sure, but only from a farm a couple of hours away. Delicious, tender, and local.

If you haven’t eaten spring turnip greens, imagine something perky, a little peppery, with the texture of baby spinach, only with more of a stem (which is also tender and perfectly edible). They’re sometimes labeled “turnip tops,” sometimes “field greens,” and, for those in the know, simply “greens.” The grocery stores and farm stands carry them for a little while at this time of year, and, in addition to being fantastically nutritious (historically Newfoundlanders have scarfed them back as a tonic after the long, potato-y winter), they’re dead cheap. A big two-pound bag rings in at around one-third of the cost of the same amount of imported spinach.

Which is, perhaps, the only downside to picking up a bag of turnip tops: in the grocery store, they only seem to come in giant bags, and you’re left wondering what to do with them all.

Turnip greens shrink down considerably when you cook them, so don’t freak out at the number of leaves you have in front of you. Like any spring cooking green, they only want the quickest turn in the sauté pan or the briefest trip to the steamer. Too much heat and they’ll turn to mush. Steamed turnip greens with butter, salt, and pepper is as good a side dish as I can imagine, with the possible exception of turnip greens sautéed with garlic and olive oil. Wilt them and put them in an omelette or a quiche or stuff them inside a chicken breast. Any place that you would use spinach or arugula, you can give turnip greens a try.

And that’s just what I did with the planned spinach-walnut pesto. It worked out so well that I made two batches more, which are stored in my freezer to be devoured in the future. Even the four-year-old of the house likes it, although she insists on eating a bowl of plain noodles first, and then having noodles with turnip-green pesto for seconds. Go figure.

Now, if only I can track down some local-source olive oil, walnuts, and Parmesan, I’ll be set.

Turnip green pesto with walnuts and pumpkin seeds
(I don’t think the butter is remotely authentic, but it adds a nice silkiness to the pesto.)

½ cup walnut halves
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds
6 ounces fresh turnip greens (about three good-sized handfuls)
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup melted butter
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
sea salt and black pepper to taste

Chop your walnuts fairly fine and toast them in a small pan over medium-low heat until they start to smell roasty good. Remove from heat and set aside.

If you enjoy using a food processor, throw your greens in there, then add your walnuts, pumpkin seeds, and garlic. Give it a whizz, and then add your oil and butter. Pulse until you have a coarse paste, scraping down the sides as necessary, then stir in the Parmesan.

If you prefer the slower, but more meditative chopping method, use a chef’s knife to very finely chop the greens, the same way you would chop fresh herbs. I do it in three handful-sized batches. Remove greens to a bowl and chop your walnuts and pumpkin seeds the same way, until they are quite fine (or use a mortar and pestle, or a blender, for that part). Stir in remaining ingredients.

Depending on how finely everything is chopped, this will make 1 ½ to 2 cups of pesto, which is lots. It’s great on pasta, as a sauce for pizza, or on a cheese melt with a few slices of tomato. It freezes very well – I froze mine in a mini-muffin tin and then coaxed the little pesto discs out into a freezer bag, so I can just grab a few when I need them.

Send your questions, comments, and 100-mile suggestions to dreae@thescope.ca

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