by Sara Holden
Pesto is magic.
That creamy, green deliciousness goes great with pizza, veggies, pasta, salad, grilled cheese, fish, on a spoon…Perhaps one of the most magical things about it is that you can play with the ingredients so much and still come up with an amazing accompaniment for any meal.
Traditionally, pesto is made with basil, olive oil, garlic, parmesan cheese and pine nuts, with a pinch of salt and pepper. I’ve probably made pesto a hundred times and have never once used pine nuts. Those tiny, delicious little suckers are pricey and not something that I usually have on hand. Instead I sub pretty much any other nut: walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans. I’ve even seen it made with macadamia nuts, but never tried that myself. Macadamia nuts in my house never last long enough to make it into anything but my mouth.
My favorite nuts to use are walnuts or cashews. Both have that same buttery creaminess that the pine nuts lend to pesto, so that you can hardly tell the difference. I’ve also left out the parmesan for a dairy free option (also known as the “oh, right, there’s supposed to be parmesan in this but we’re out” option). I’ve also heard of plenty of extra flavors being added to pesto, like sun dried tomato, or roasted red pepper. Recently, I learned that pesto can also be made with different kinds of greens.
As we’ve been generously inundated with farm fresh fennel fronds lately (say that five times fast), we’ve been wondering what the heck to do with them. We’re very familiar with what to do with the bulb (shave onto a salad) and the seeds (avoid at all costs*), but we were stumped when it came to the greens.
A quick google search yielded page after page of fennel frond pesto recipes. Without bothering to read any of them, because instructions inshmuckshens, we set to work creating a new kind of pesto magic.
Fennel fronds create a fabulously aromatic and zingy pesto (or was that zing from the four cloves of garlic we put in there? Hard to say). We enjoyed it over a ginormous bowl of rotelle pasta and roasted veggies. Seriously, huge bowl. Like, mixing bowl huge. We probably didn’t need to eat all of that in one sitting. But it was SO GOOD.
Fennel Frond Pesto
2 c. fennel fronds, stripped from the spine and roughly chopped
1 c. walnuts/almonds/cashews/pine nuts (I used walnuts)**
¾-1 c. of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1 T parmesan cheese (optional. Leave out if you plan to put your pesto on fish)
Pinch of salt and pepper to taste
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth or mostly smooth. Or until mixed pretty good.*** Scrape down sides as needed. Store extra/leftovers (like that’s even a thing with something this yummy) in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
*I recognize that there’s nothing wrong with fennel seeds and that they can be a beneficial addition to lasagna, or whatever. They’re just not my personal fave.
**While enjoying our pesto creation, sous chef Andy mentioned that it might be even more delicious if we toasted the walnuts and roasted the garlic before blending them into pesto. Should you choose to be a kitchen rockstar and do this, simply preheat the oven to 200º, spread your walnuts and garlic cloves out on a baking sheet, then bake for 15-20 minutes or until the walnuts become fragrant and the garlic is golden brown. Check at 10 minutes.
***We use a Vitamix for all of our blending needs, and in the past have found that our carafe isn’t always ideal for sauces like this. Sometimes we just chop everything really, really fine, then mix it all in a bowl. If you find your blender isn’t quite cutting it (no pun intended), you could give this a try. While you won’t get the saucy effect, it’s still delicious and works great.