You may notice that this recipe contains no chocolate, but even people who work with chocolate do occasionally need to eat other foods. Chantal’s beautiful flowers were crying out to be used at a dinner party, so she made nasturtium pesto, and it was so good that we wanted to share it.
Nasturtiums are easy to grow, cheerfully-coloured flowers with a pretty fragrance that flower in summer and through into autumn. Both the flowers and the leaves are edible.
The name Nasturtium can refer to both a genus of watercresses and to the more commonly-known flowering plant (Tropaeolum) which is edible and has a taste reminiscent of watercress but which isn’t actually a close relation of the watercress varieties of the same name. Confused yet? The name means ‘nose twister’, referring to the pungent-smelling oils both types of plant produce.
The entirety of the flowering nasturtium plant is edible, with the leaves increasing in intensity from peppery watercress to eye-watering wasabi strength with age, while the flowers are sweeter and more gently spiced.
This is a blueprint rather than a recipe because the flavour of the pesto will vary in intensity with the age of your plant. Taste it as you go along and experiment: try parmesan instead of pecorino, walnuts instead of pine nuts, adjust the garlic or use half basil, try making it with young wild garlic leaves instead in spring (don’t add the extra garlic).
If it’s too fierce when first made, pop it in the fridge for 3 or 4 days for a mellower pesto that still has kick and a great green flavour.
- 4 big handfuls nasturtium leaves, plus any pods you have.
- 2 cloves garlic
- 100g bag pine nuts
- 100g pecorino cheese, finely grated
- Olive oil, approx 250ml
- Pinch of salt
- Lemon juice to taste (optional)
- Lightly toast the pine nuts in a dry pan.
- Put the nasturtium, garlic, and pine nuts into a food processor with a good glug of olive oil and pulse until roughly chopped.
- Add the cheese and slowly pour in the oil with the motor running until you have a fairly thick paste.
- Add the lemon juice to taste, then a little more oil until you have a loose paste that drops off the spoon. Be careful not to over-process, or you risk ending up with a bowl of green sludge.
- If making in a pestle and mortar, start by crushing the garlic and the salt then pound in the leaves a few at a time before working in the cheese and oil.
Stir into cooked pasta and enjoy with friends.
Of course you can add the flowers to the pesto too, but they’re so pretty it seems a shame to not to use them in a salad or as a garnish.