Chickweed Pesto

It seems to me each season deserves its own pesto.

(Don’t need the details? You could always …. Jump to Recipe)

How hard could it be? You take something green, leafy (edible) plant, some variety of nuts, and throw them together in a blender with some oil and seasonings.

Chickweed pesto - perfect for late winter foraging!
Chickweed pesto – perfect for late winter foraging!

I’ve already mentioned garlic mustard pesto, a great option for removing this invasive (but tasty) weed in mid- to late-spring. But in late winter, during brief warm periods sandwiched between cold spells, chickweed is there waiting for you.

Sometimes in the most inconvenient places!

Chickweed grows almost everywhere... even between the boards of a double-decker garden bed!
Chickweed grows almost everywhere… even between the boards of a double-decker garden bed!

This chickweed recipe showcases local, seasonal ingredients – and yes, even the lemon juice can be local. Meet Lem, my “Improved Meyer” lemon tree! Our indoors environment isn’t ideal for container fruit trees, but outdoor conditions are worse – filled variously with brutal winds, blistering heat, crushing humidity or bitter cold. Lem lives out its days in my study, where I use a paint brush to hand pollinate the flowers and (mostly) remember to water it regularly!

An indoor container-grown Meyer lemon, ready to harvest
An indoor container-grown Meyer lemon, ready to harvest

I’ve learned the hard way through years of foraging chickweed that extra attention while harvesting will save a LOT of time prepping. I used to cut or pull up entire fistfuls of the stuff, but a lot of debris, wilting or fading leaves, and dirt ended up in the mix. Just clipping the green, luscious growing tips will save hours of cleaning the chickweed later. If you still want to pull it up by the fistful (because it has invaded your garden and you initially allowed it because hey, it’s another crop), put it in the compost or feed it to a flock of backyard hens. Do NOT use chickweed as chop-and-drop mulch because it will survive and you’ll be stuck with it in your garden FOR. EVER. Go ahead, ask me how I know….

A colander of chickweed ready to clean
Extra time and care while harvesting saves time later when cleaning the chickweed

Chickweed pesto is a great option for people who don’t care for the taste of the traditional basil-based pesto. (Yes, these people do exist!) It is also a great introduction to foraging, because chickweed is usually abundant, relatively easy to identify, does not have poisonous lookalikes, and doesn’t require complicated preparation like some wild edibles (pokeweed, for instance).

This recipe also features black walnuts whose bold and rich flavor beautifully complements the mild chickweed. Toasting the walnut pieces brings out the flavor further, and makes it easier to remove the skins, which can be bitter and interfere with the balance of this pesto. Rubbing the toasted pieces in a tea towel helps the tedious process of removing the skins.

Pro tip 1: Yes, you can remove the skins by rubbing the toasted black walnut pieces in your palms, however the oil will seep into your skin. Some people find the tactile experience unpleasant, I just treated it like extra moisturizing! Although after a few handfuls, my hands were so coated with the oils that they were much less effective at rubbing the skins off.

Pro tip 2: Wash that towel thoroughly by hand before tossing it in with the rest of your regular laundry!

A bowl of chickweed pesto with toast and lemon halves
Chickweed pesto

If you don’t have black walnuts from fall foraging, you can find Hammons at some retailers. You could also substitute many other types of nut, including regular walnuts, hazelnuts, or pine nuts. (I haven’t tried hickories or pecans in pesto, but I’m sure they would work fine as well!)

Chickweed Pesto Print Recipe

Makes approx. 2 cups

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cleaned & dried loosely packed chickweed
  • 1/2 c black walnut pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 c walnut oil, plus more as needed
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 c Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Toast the black walnuts for 10 – 15 minutes in an oven at 350 F. Stay close by and check regularly once you reach the 10 minute mark – because of the high oil content, black walnuts quickly go from “toasted” to “burnt” if you aren’t paying attention. Allow the black walnuts to cool completely. Rub the walnut pieces in a towel to remove as much of the skins as feasible.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add more walnut oil, a tablespoon at a time, as needed to achieve the desired texture.
  3. Serve with crackers or vegetables; mix 2 parts pesto with 1 part white wine vinegar to make a salad dressing; use as a topping for pesto pizza; and save any extras in an air-tight container in your freezer.
Chickweed Pesto - a tasty recipe that makes a great intro to foraging wild edibles!
Chickweed Pesto – a tasty recipe that makes a great intro to foraging wild edibles!

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