I’ve been kicking myself for not participating in The Heart of the Matter event. This blog may not show it much (I guarantee more buttercream photos before the year is out), but I generally eat a healthy diet to maintain my weight loss and keep high blood pressure in check. When you have a father who has suffered a hemorrhagic stroke due to hypertension, you are constantly reminded of how invisible health problems can destroy a life and affect a family. While heart disease and hypertension are not identical, one often comes along with the other. The same recommended diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and monounsaturated fats will help heal both. It’s with pleasure that I finally participate in The Heart of the Matter and submit my pasta dish for this month’s theme.
The wild garlic mustard I identified last week without dying tastes like a cross between young garlic chives and baby spinach. The entire garlic mustard plant is edible, including the pungent root. Unfortunately, the roots I pulled up had a hard black center that made it difficult to cut much less clean and use. In the first year of the garlic mustard’s life, the round scalloped leaves hug the ground much like violet leaves. You can see a bit of them as garnish on the pasta. In the second year the leaves develop a notched heart shape and grow from a thigh-high central stem topped with white flowers that drop their petals on the leaves below. The withered petals can look a lot like, um, bird droppings. Calling it “flower droppings” doesn’t make it sound much better. They wash right off. Thank God. Apparently the leaves become bitter as the weather warms, so if you have seen this invasive weed growing like crazy in your area, by all means, harvest some leaves now and toss them into your next salad.
The intriguing garlicky flavor of the leaves would lend itself well to blanching and seasoning Korean style, but with basil season a ways off yet, several online garlic mustard pesto recipes caught my fancy. Oily restaurant and store pesto makes me ill within a few bites. Homemade pesto, made with just a bit of intense extra virgin olive oil and as much herb as I’d like, makes me giddy with the taste of fresh summer. Reducing the oil also happens to reduce the fat—an added bonus. A bit of real Parmigiano-Reggiano is so flavorful that just a little goes a long way without noticeably increasing the saturated fat content. But if you’re avoiding cheese, a great substitute is that vegan standby, nutritional yeast. Available in health food stores, nutritional yeast provides many B vitamins, adds a cheesy flavor, and contains glutamate, the flavor-enhancing unami that makes Parmigiano improve anything it’s added to. To make up for the modest amount of oil, starchy pasta water thins the thick pesto into a good consistency.
A food processor makes this quick work. I used a mortar and pestle because it makes me feel like an Italian grandma and works my biceps. When you’re one of those people who hates lifting anything other than a fork, every little bit helps. Also, a mortar and pestle are easier to wash. The resulting light herbal pesto was delicious tossed with multicolored leaf-shaped pasta. I had the leftovers with julienned yellow bell peppers sauteed in olive oil and a handful of halved raw cherry tomatoes. That was even better. Bonus: This pesto will not blacken like basil and retains its vibrant green color.
WILD GARLIC MUSTARD PESTO FOR THE HEART
· Bulging fistful of young garlic mustard leaves (or arugula, or baby spinach, or basil, or a combination)
· Small pinch of coarse salt (more if you’re using nutritional yeast)
· 1 or 2 garlic gloves
· 1-2 Tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
· 1-2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil to taste
· Parmigiano-Reggiano or ground nutritional yeast to taste
· Pasta of your choice
· Reserved pasta water
1) Start salted water boiling for the pasta.
2) Place the garlic mustard in a mortar along with a pinch of salt, the garlic, and the pine nuts. Pound and grind with a pestle until the ingredients are mushy and uniform.
3) Drizzle in the olive oil and add as much Parmigiano as you’d like. (I use a Microplane zester which yields such fluffy cheese that it’s hard to measure.) Grind some more, tasting as you add cheese and/or more salt as needed. You want the pesto salty enough to flavor the pasta but not too salty.
4) In the meantime cook the pasta until al dente. Reserve some of the pasta water and thin the pesto as needed. Drain the pasta and immediately toss with the pesto. Add more pasta water as needed. Top with sauteed vegetables or fresh tomatoes as desired. Taste and adjust for salt. Serve immediately.