Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fat Hen Pesto

After sampling fat hen pesto at a wild food night recently, and having seen my beans and squashes completely swamped by fat hen while I was away on holiday, I thought it was time to give this a try.

Fat hen (aka goosefoot and a dozen other things) is cultivated as a crop in many countries, and is a common ingredient in a lot of Indian dishes. I think they've got the right idea - it grows fast and vigorously, is rarely bothered by pests or drought, and self-sows prolifically. It can be picked for food at any stage of its life, and the whole plant is edible. The raw leaves are slightly coarser eating than our modern tastes are used to but pleasant and mildly flavoured, and contain more iron and protein than domesticated spinach or cabbage, and more vitamin B1 and calcium than raw cabbage. Like spinach-family leaf crops and sorrel, it contains oxalic acid which shouldn't be eaten too much, but this is destroyed by cooking. If you let the seeds ripen you can get a substantial grain crop from it too - in fact fat hen is very closely related to quinoa. The fatty seeds are high in protein, vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus and potassium, apparently taste similar to buckwheat, and can be eaten whole or ground into flour.

Really makes you think about the benefits of eating natural, native foods versus the carefully bred cultivars and hybrids we buy each year and put so much blood, sweat and tears into caring for, dunnit?

Anyway... Here's the recipe. I looked at several pesto recipes then kinda made it up as I went along, and as far as I could I used good old British ingredients, instead of foreign pine nuts and olive oil, but you can easily make substitutions as you see fit. I brought home a bunch of whole fat hen plants and picked off the leaves and shoots - it doesn't hurt to use some stalk and some seeds in this, as long as the majority is leaves. It also pays to pick plants which already appear clean, as the slightly hairy leaf surface isn't very easy to wash!

Fat Hen Pesto
(approx eight servings)

Place into a food processor:
- 2 packed cups (70g) fat hen leaves
- 1/4 cup (30g) almonds
- 1/3 cup (25g) freshly grated parmesan cheese or equivalent
- 150ml rapeseed oil
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp sea salt.
Blend until desired consistency is reached.
Taste, and add more garlic, cheese, oil or seasoning as desired.

It's delicious - a really fresh green flavour that's as versatile as traditional basil pesto - perhaps even more so.

Store leftovers in the fridge for up to a week, with a little extra oil on the top to prevent oxidisation. If you wish to store it longer, freeze it in single portions - use an ice cube tray or dollop spoonfuls onto greaseproof paper.

We used the first of the pesto stirred into some gnocchi (use a generous tablespoon per person), with a sprinkling of chopped bacon and some extra parmesan to finish it off. What a colourful dish! And it tasted amazing.

And today for lunch I made this pesto potato salad with French beans and tomatoes - all Nome-grown! I just cooked the diced potato and chopped beans, then stirred in the pesto, halved tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon juice while the potatoes were still hot. And topped with a little parmesan and black pepper, of course. Summery (unlike the weather), healthy and delicious.

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