Oregano Pesto with Walnuts and Orange

Oregano Pesto with Walnuts and Orange 

It's springtime and a few days of very warm sunny weather has sped the growth of oregano in the garden. Oregano is a great plant for edible gardening: it's a beautiful ground cover, will flower if left untrimmed and best of all is reliably perennial to zone 6 and often survives winter in zone 5 if you protect with mulch. Once established it thrives on neglect and doesn't require regular watering. The key to a constant supply of fresh leaves is to keep it trimmed and avoid flowering. 

OK, so you don't want to grow your oregano, but you do want to try this pesto. Buy a package of fresh oregano, you'll need a loosely packed cup of leaves.  It's easy to remove the leaves from the stem by sliding your finger along the stem moving from the bottom of the stem toward the end with the new growth. The leaves will easily separate from the stem. 

Pesto is a versatile condiment associated with Italy, but also has roots in Southern France (pistou). The origin of the preparation dates back to ancient Roman times, where a mortar and pestle (hence: pesto) were used to hand grind herbs, cheese and nuts. Although it's now typical to use "Genovese" type basil as the herb base in pesto, any herb can be used.  I never prepare pesto with cheese, you can always add grated Parmesan if you'd prefer.  

Serve Pesto along with pasta or spread thinly on slices of crusty bread. You can dilute the mixture with a bit of oil and cream to make a creamy sauce.  I like to  make an oh-so-easy baked chicken by spreading pesto on chicken and baking. Spread pesto on a piece of salmon fillet, spray oil on foil, wrap the fish and bake or cook on the BBQ.  You can also create a vegan sauce by mixing pesto with a bit of oil and lemon or orange juice. Pesto is wonderful served over rice.  Try cooking barley, saute an onion and mix the barley with the onion and a few tablespoons of pesto.  You can always use it to make the garlic-pesto-yogurt sauce that accompany chard patties.  You'll soon realize that the possibilities are endless. 

Preparing pesto is quick and easy. It takes longer to organize the ingredients than to whir them in a food processor. I don't grind the mixture by hand, but it might be interesting to try your hand using a mortar and pestle. 

Prepare the ingredients before blending: separate the oregano leaves from the stems, roughly chop walnuts, zest a small orange, squeeze the juice, peel the garlic cloves .  All ingredients are processed at once in a food processor until they form a smooth paste. 

1 cup loosely packed oregano leaves 
zest from one small orange 
1 oz orange juice 
3/4 c roughly chopped walnuts 
2-4 cloves garlic (this will depend on how much you do or don't love garlic)
2 oz olive oil - you can increase the olive oil by 1/2 oz increments if you want a thinner mixture
large pinch Kosher salt  

Add the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and whir until it forms a smooth paste. 

 Scrape into a covered container. Store in the refrigerator, use within 2-3 weeks. 
Yield approximately 1 cup.


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