Every season I seem to have a favorite item from the garden. This spring it was lettuce. I couldn’t believe how incredibly easy it was to grow. I also found it really gratifying to harvest right before dinner. More than other vegetables, there’s really something special about super fresh lettuce.
This summer I’m into my herbs. I planted a standalone herb garden for the first time, and I’ve got rosemary, oregano, basil, dill, cilantro, thyme, mint and parsley growing. I’m especially pleased with my parsley.
Italian flat leaf parsley is easy to grow, it doesn’t bolt when it gets hot like so many other herbs (bolting means flowering quickly, which causes bitterness), and it tastes great. If you don’t have much space, parsley grows well in a pot on a patio, too. Just make sure it gets lots of sun and water.
A wonderful use of my garden parsley: Parsley Pesto
These days I’d call myself an adventurous eater, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really embraced parsley. Olives were also on that list, and now I think of them as a real treat to have with cocktails or as a snack before a meal. I add parsley, with its bold, herbaceous flavor, to pasta, salads, soups, pizza, meats, egg dishes, casseroles, sauces and more. It adds a touch of freshness to everything it touches, plus it makes everything look better. That bright bolt of green is the first thing on the plate that catches your eye.
A recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine featured a parsley pesto on the cover, and I was intrigued. I love chimichurri, an Argentinian condiment composed of parsley, vinegar and oil, served with grilled steak. But I’d never made a pesto out of parsley before. Since I’ve got a bumper crop this year, I decided to try it out.
The dish originally called for spaghetti, but since I had orzo — a toothsome pasta shaped like a large grain of rice and popular in Greece — I decided to give it a Greek flavor profile. I used feta instead of Parmesan, and added in cherry tomatoes and lemon juice. I liked that the original recipe called for almonds instead of pine nuts. Pine nuts are expensive and can go rancid quickly, plus I rarely have them on hand. Almonds, for me, are just the opposite.
Orzo with Parsley Pesto is easy to make with minimal cooking time so the kitchen doesn’t get so hot. It would also be great served cold as a summer side at a cookout. To make it more of a main-dish meal, add shrimp or grilled chicken. For a vegetarian take, I served this with a fried egg on the side.
I also want to give a plug to the immersion blender or stick blender. I have a KitchenAid model kind of like this one that comes with a food processor attachment. The bowl is small, so I had to make the pesto in two batches, but it’s so much easier to clean than my enormous 14-cup food processor.
Cheers to parsley, the star of my summer garden. I’m excited to see catches my eye this fall. Stay tuned!
Orzo with Parsley Pesto
To keep extra or purchased parsley fresh, trim the stems then place the bunch in a glass of water and keep it in the fridge.
1 lb. orzo
½ cup unsalted, roasted almonds
4 cups packed fresh flat leaf parsley leaves (small, thin stems are fine - just remove the thicker onces)
¾ cups chopped chives or green onions (green parts only)
¾ cups olive oil
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving
Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving at least a cup of the starchy pasta water.
Meanwhile, pulse almonds in the bowl of a food processor until well-ground. Add parsley, chives, oil and cheese and pulse until desired smoothness is achieved (I like mine with some texture). Season thoroughly with salt and pepper.
Toss tomatoes with pasta, then add pesto. Starting with pesto, scoop spoonfuls into pasta, alternating with tablespoons of reserved pasta water until the right consistency is achieved.
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, June 2013
**Please note: This post also appeared in the Tennessean today.