People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk. – Stephen King
The time has come to talk of strange foraging. Not so much for the eggplant, but the other star of this dish. Yes, you can make pesto out of dandelion greens.
Anyone can see the dandelions are up in full force, coming at us in battalions. With the weather supposedly rainy until Tuesday (you heard me right) they will be plentiful come the next sunny day. As I have said in the past, if you can’t defeat your enemies, eat them.
I have threatened to make this pesto before so I thought since the wild beasts are at my door the time had come. Just make sure you always harvest from an unpolluted spot. That's kind of key for any foraging, don't you think?
No, pesto isn't just basil
Pesto is usually made with basil, but many versions with some weird and wild greens are cropping up (pardon the pun). Some aren’t even green, for example sun-dried tomato pesto.
Now before we go down the road of "pesto's only ever basil" the history behind the word is that it is from the Italian pestare, the meaning of which is to pound or crush. So it’s more about the method of preparation than classic ingredients.
What makes basil pesto the classic is that basil has a wonderful, almost sharp taste when used in volume. It’s not at all like what you may think. That’s what to look for in substitutes – that sharpness. If you can find a suitable replacement you’re on your way.
I have made pesto from cilantro and kale in the past. The kale pesto was a little unexpectedly delicious, but it shouldn’t have been. Kale leaves are very strong flavoured.
The same is true of dandelion greens. They do not taste like dandelion stems (if you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to taste one); they taste sort of peppery.
Your task, if you accept it, is to go outside and find a clean dandelion leaf and eat a bit of it. You’ll then understand what I mean.
To the "Back 40"!
So off the the back yard I went, plastic bag in hand. I gathered a fair bunch rather quickly. Now is the time to harvest them since the leaves are still quite young. They grow stronger in flavour the older they get.
I have actually never gotten around to harvesting very young leaves before and I noticed something interesting. Each leaf had a dark red vein on the ridge. This made for a darker than usual coloured pesto when puréed. But each pesto other than basil does have its own distinct hue.
Making pesto is a breeze, and it’s fun. All you need is a food processor. From there it takes mere minutes.
If you’re venturing away from basil, your second consideration will be the nuts. Basil pesto uses pine nuts. Let’s all say it together: “They’re expensive!” I have used almonds, walnuts, and in this recipe cashews. I wanted the cashews for their richness.
We had a vegetarian friend from the city for the long weekend and it was up to me to prepare dinner for when she and my spouse arrived home. One of my favourite vegetarian dishes is eggplant parmigiana. I now have found a way to bump it up a notch.
The whole recipe itself is actually quite easy. If you can use a food processor, slice eggplant and open a jar of sauce you can make this dish.
All in all, if you’re looking for something that tastes great but is definitely out of the ordinary you’ve found it here. Also, the dandelion being free doesn’t hurt either.
Dandelion Pesto Eggplant Parmigiana
Prep: 30 min | Bake: 35 min | Serves 4
2 tbspolive oil
1 large eggplant
2 cups your favourite pasta sauce
linguine for 4
1 cup mozzarella
4 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tbsp lemon peel
4-5 cups fresh dandelion greens, washed and chopped
1 cup unsalted cashews pieces
about 1/2 cup olive oil (see recipe)
1/2 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the eggplant in 3/4” slices. Season with salt and pepper.
Fry the eggplant in batches in the 2 tbsp of olive oil until browned. It will soak up quite a lot so add more if necessary. Place in a 9x13 baking dish, in one layer.
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
To make the pesto, place the garlic cloves, lemon peel and cashews in a food processor. Add the dandelion greens about a cup at a time, puréeing between additions.
Once all the dandelion greens have been added, slowly start to pour olive oil into the mixture while the motor is running. Use enough so the pesto moves smoothly in the bowl – but don’t make it a runny liquid. It needs to be slightly thick.
Add the grated parmesan and pulse to combine. Taste for salt and pepper and add as desired.
Place some pesto on top of each eggplant slice. You can freeze the remaining pesto, or refrigerate for 1 week. You will have leftover.
Then pour over the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top with the mozzarella and bake until golden and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
Serve on top of hot linguine, with grated parmesan at the table.
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