Seasonal Recipe: Universal Pesto

Preparing green garlic for pesto

Ever since I learnt to scythe a few weeks ago, I've been hankering after foraging some wild garlic to recreate the delicious pesto Caroline left us for lunch.

Sadly allotment duties lately have kept me away from where the wild garlic grows. However, the bulb garlic which 'melted' away in last year's rain has reappeared up at the plot in the form of lots of juicy green garlic. I harvested it yesterday: some went into a chicken leftovers and leek soup, then some was chopped into last night's curry. Now it's time to make some pesto.

Whilst pondering my surprise bounty up at the plot, I also thought about the recipes various Salad Challengers linked into Salad Days last year. If there's a strongly flavoured bountiful leaf, you can pretty well guarantee it'll find its way into a pesto recipe somewhere.

So, I've devised a recipe for Universal Pesto which is adaptable to whatever you have to hand. Note: I'm currently recommending you choose 1 item from each ingredient line in the list where there's a choice. I need to do some experimentation to see whether any of the leaves and/or nuts can be combined successfully. Or you could have a go and let me know how you get on :)

  • 100g leaves - basil (if you're feeling traditional), rocket, wild or green garlic, carrot tops, parsley (curly or flat leaf), nasturtiums, watercress, spinach, coriander, sorrel, lemon balm (excellent with fish), bull's blood beetroot leaves (for a pink result)
  • 150ml oil - olive (any kind), sunflower, rapeseed
  • 50g nuts - pine nuts (toasted or not, I prefer toasted), walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews - shelled weight
  • 50-60g hard, tasty cheese e.g. pecorino, parmesan, very mature cheddar, crumbly goat's cheese, feta - finely grated (or crumbled in the case of the goat's cheese or feta)
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (if not using wild or green garlic)
  • Squeeze of lemon juice (optional, I'm also pondering the possibilities of adding some lemon balm instead)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste - if the watercress or nasturtiums are on top form, you might not need any pepper
  1. Wash the leaves if needed and discard any damaged leaves or pieces of grass you've inadvertently harvested (the latter particularly applied to my green garlic!)
  2. Put all the ingredients (except the olive oil, salt and pepper) into a food processor and blitz for a couple of minutes until well mixed together
  3. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the oil and mix until it's combined with the rest of the ingredients
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste
Now all I need is some fresh pasta and we're sorted for tonight's tea :)

NB 1. We're not planning on going out tonight, which is just as well seeing the garlic pesto has quite a kick to it! If you've chosen garlic as your leaf but wish to have a milder flavour, then firstly sweat it in a little oil for a few minutes. That should do the trick, or you can mix in some natural yoghurt or half fat creme fraiche afterwards to make a milder, creamier alternative for pasta, baked potatoes etc. Oh, and eating some parsley afterwards helps freshen up the breath :)

NB 2. Tip from Paolo from Seeds of Italy - if making basil pesto use a pestle and mortar instead as contact with metal can turn the leaves a nasty shade of black.

Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days, or added to a clean jar and topped up with some extra oil, so that it keeps well. Ensure it's completely covered by the layer of oil as this prevents air getting to the pesto below. Alternatively the pesto can be frozen in suitably portion-sized containers for a taste of spring or summer in the depths of winter.

And if you have a variation to add to the list, do let me know in the comments below :)

Update - I've had some fab ideas from people in the comments which I've added to the recipe in italics. Thanks everyone! I also made the pictured batch of pesto today using three quarters green garlic to one quarter blander lettuce leaves. I can report that the result still has quite a kick! I'm also told that using parsley in the mix gives a much greener pesto.

Update 2 - Love and a Licked Spoon has blogged her recipe for chive and lemon pesto. She's used a slightly different ratio of ingredients to those I've given here, but it sounds wonderful.


  1. Sometimes, as a non-cook, I eat here in my imagination - but I've never got round to liking pesto.

  2. What a great recipe Sue. Basically you can make it with absolutely anything!

  3. I've made pesto using Bulls Blood Beet leaves and walnuts etc. Tossed it with hot pasta. Very good, and the pasta turned pink as you might expect. Using tricolor pasta made it appear more interesting.

    This was a great idea of yours, and easy to follow. GB

  4. This sounds divine and I will have to give it a try

  5. excellent idea! thanks for doing the research :)

  6. Sounds delicious! I have made a similar recipe using only lemon balm in place of basil, and it was spectacular on grilled fish.

  7. What a fab recipe. I still have a bag full of wild garlic in the kitchen so think I might make this, in its milder form perhaps. It doesn't half have a kick!

  8. As your basil crop is close to finishing I have been making batches of pesto to freeze. I like the tip from Paolo but unfortunately my laziness is greater than my desire for really green pesto...adding a little bit of parsley to basil pesto also helps increase its greenness I find.

  9. Delicious, I always mean to make pesto and never seem to have enough basil, so this recipe is perfect. Lovely knife by the way!

  10. This one is going straight into my handwritten recipe book; I've made pesto before (cashew nuts) but hadn't thought about lemon balm pesto on fish. Sounds yummy! Also ALWAYS have masses of nasturtium leaves and knew it was edible in salads but hadn't tried pesto recipe. Have just had to go back and read about your scything lesson - you are a wonder, VP! C xx

  11. Hi everyone thanks for your comments and especially your ideas. I've updated the recipe, so that it's even better now :)

  12. A very brilliant recipe - wild garlic pesto is a favourite in the Sarah Raven office...


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