Ada here. Can you feel it? The shift to fall is here, and it is nowhere more obvious than in Vrdnt’s fields. Just about every CSA share you receive this autumn will be padded with greens like arugula and mustards, which are available now, as well as crops like collards and kale, which are about 2 weeks out. In addition to these greens which are grown specifically for their leafy arms, you should expect to receive many greens that come attached to roots - turnips, radish (yes, you can eat radish greens!), and kohlrabi, just to name a few. Farm BOGO at its best.
We all know that these dark leafy vegetables are packed with nutrition, and for that reason alone you should eat them. But also? They’re delicious and very versatile, and unlike very delicate lettuces, these hearty leaves can stand up to the action of a blender… or food processor, mortar and pestle, immersion blender, or even just some dedicated chopping. On these early October days, the parade of green is new and novel - a wonderful opportunity to explore some creative ways to use the leaves, in blitzed-fashion, and build a toolkit for later in the season when you’re reaching your limit of verdure.
PESTO, and all of its cousins.
Pesto, or its French cousin Pistou (lacking the pine nuts), is a summertime stalwart, but the technique of blitzing herbs, nuts, and maybe cheese together is an incredible idea worth building upon, all season long. The riffs are endless, and we hope you’ll get comfortable with this easy way to use your greens.
Once you’re made a verdant pesto, you can use this sauce as a sandwich spread, adding vibrancy to a grilled cheese, or as a dip for crackers or chips. Or, you can toss hot pasta with the sauce, adding a ladle of starchy pasta water to the party to help loosen things up. Mix a dollop with mayo or sour cream, and you’ve got a foil for potato chips. Or, simply spoon a bit on soup or beans as you would any other topping like crushed tortilla chips and shredded cheese. Blitzed-green dips like this can be creamy - similar to pesto - or more oily, which, with the addition of red pepper flakes or fresh peppers, can serve as a hot, saucy condiment.
Perhaps my favorite quality of a freshly blitzed green spread is its utility for future-me. Use now, or easily freeze any surplus pesto you might find yourself with. As long as they’re isn’t large quantities of yogurt in there (more on that), it should freeze fine - good for at least months. I have some fancy cocktail cubes that I use for this purpose, though a ziplock bag would work great, as well.
It may feel reckless, but it’s actually very easy to make a pesto-inspired sauce without any recipe, and only your pantry ingredients. Just about the only necessities are olive oil, salt, and some type of acid (lemon/lime/vinegar). Here are some ideas for other possible add-ons:
Pinenuts are the traditional choice for pesto, but many nuts would work. I often have pecans and walnuts on hand, and both are great. You can also use seeds in this moment, like hemp seeds, pepitas, sunflower, or even tahini (blended sesame seeds). Very, very often, I skip the nuts all together because I’m more interested in eating them whole. That being said, I would recommend using at least a few nuts when working with very bitter or spicy greens (like radish or mustards) as the buttery nuts will help round out the final product.
Don’t hold back. If you have a bunch of fresh, tender-leafed herbs, it is my strong opinion that more is better. Basil, parsley, dill, and cilantro are all suitable contenders for this application. Tarragon and fresh oregano are great, too. You can blend a bunch of parsley with a bunch of kale, for example, or you can make a “pesto” with parsley-only. We’re drawing a lot of inspiration from pesto in this post, but really, other herby-centric dips like Italian salsa verde , Argentinian chimichurri , or Yeminite schug all have an herby base, but could easily accommodate the addition of other greens, too. Radish green and cilantro chimichurri? Why the heck not?
In addition to salt, a splash of acid feels like the only other necessity in this equation. Acid will not only help preserve your dip and make it last for a generous week in the fridge, but it will also wake up those taste buds so you can actually taste your verdant delights. Lemon or lime juice is a great choice. You could also use preserved lemon or lemon zest instead. Red wine vinegar is the traditional acid in salsa verde, but many other mild vinegars would do, too. Even the juice from a pickle or olive jar would give the dip the tang it needs.
Speaking of pickles and olives, these would be great additions to your green spread. Pickled peppers, hot or sweet, capers, or even a couple anchovy filets will add a bit of salt, acid, as well as umami to these dips. As a general rule, I think pickled-additions work best in a green sauce that is more oily than it is creamy. That being said, kitchen rules exist to be broken.
Garlic and Peppers:
A few cloves of garlic almost always make their way into my green dips - both in the creamy version as well as the oily ones. If you’re a lover of heat, you can include some raw peppers (like jalapeños or serranos) into your dip. Jalapeños and serranos are classic components of schug. Red pepper flakes would work, too.
Parmesan is the cheese used in traditional pesto, but any hard cheese like pecorino would work as well to achieve a classic pesto-like result. Alternatively, you could blitz your greens and stir in a big scoop of sour cream or Greek yogurt into the mix to get an end product that is even creamier than traditional pesto. You can keep traveling along this direction and eventually land with delicious pasta sauce, or maybe a spinach and artichoke-rif, or even sag paneer. I love this version made with feta instead of paneer, which is sometimes difficult to find.
Yes, a dollop of your pesto-inspired sauce would be delicious on top of beans, but blitzed with beans? Canned white beans or chickpeas, blended together with your green dip, will yield a hearty hummus-like end result. If you have a cube of chimichurri frozen away, a can of beans in your pantry, you’re moments away from a snack.
The sweet version of these savory dips is simply a smoothie. Omit the salt and garlic, and to your greens instead add some frozen blueberries, dash of cinnamon and vanilla, and spoon of tahini (or peanut butter) for a sippable breakfast.
For when roasting, sautéing, or salad will not do, blitz your greens, y'all. Bon appetit!