In the colder months, when I want something very fresh tasting, pesto is where it’s at. Since they’re so small, most herbs grow well all year round in greenhouses, and when done right, you don’t need much more than pasta and sauce. It’s always good to have a little something to contrast the fatty, intense flavor of a good pesto - in summer, peak tomatoes do the trick perfectly but in late fall and winter, I really enjoy using baby turnips. A perfectly poached turnip, especially something like a white hakurei, stands up perfectly to pesto. It’s subtle but not bland, moist and crisp. And if you can get them, turnips greens are some of the sweetest, most flavorful greens available - useful raw or braised. Radishes or beets are also good stand-ins, prepared the same way.
Pesto can be a very specific term - implying basil, pine nuts, garlic, and often Parmesan. But it can also be a very broad term, meaning a ‘paste’ of nuts and herbs or greens, or even nuts and certain kinds of vegetable matter, like oven-dried tomatoes. It almost always needs acid which can range from lemon juice to any kind of vinegar. A few good mixes are marjoram, parsley and hazelnuts; or basil, mint, chives and almonds. And sometimes it’s really nice to add in a little bit of dried mushroom powder to get some umami kick. Miso would probably have a similar effect, although I’ve never tried it This is just a nice guideline.
- 1 cup pine nuts or walnuts
- 2 bunches of Basil, picked
- Juice and zest of 2 lemons
- ½ cup Olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1½ cups of small turnips, radishes, or beets; or larger ones peeled and cut into wedges.
Roll out the pasta into large rectangles as long as you can on the 2nd smallest setting on your machine. Using all-purpose flour, dust the pasta heavily. Fold the rectangle in half until it’s shorter than the blade on your very sharp knife. Cut the pasta lengthwise every 3 to 4 centimeters - a little bit wider than fettucine from the store.
Preheat an oven to 300 degrees and toast the nuts for approximately 10 minutes, til they’re very fragrant. When they’re cool, combine in a food processor with 2 cloves of garlic, basil, and lemon zest. Pulse until everything has been crushed some, then add most of the lemon juice, and 2/3 cups of the olive oil. First adjust for consistency with the olive oil. It should be emulsified and crunchy, moist and emulsified. Then adjust the flavor with salt, pepper, garlic, and lemon juice.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt until it tastes like the sea. Drop the pasta into the water. Put the pesto in a large pan, big enough to hold all the pasta, over low heat. When the pasta is done, after about 2 minutes, drain it well and drop it into the pesto. When the water comes back to a boil, drop in the turnips. Cook the turnips till tender, about 2 minutes, tasting one every 30 seconds or so. All the while, stir the pasta and the pesto, adding olive oil and the blanching water to sauce up the pasta. Keep the heat on low-medium. When the turnips are done, remove them from the pot and drop them into the pasta. Mix gently to incorporate the turnips without crushing them.