Ruccola and walnut pesto
Ruccola and walnut pesto. Whether you call it ruccola, rocket or arrugula this salad leaf turns up often in Le Marche cuisine. As a salad ingredient, a pizza topping or one of my favourites, chopped and scattered on top of Tagliata. Apparently, ruccola was believed by classical writers of Roman times to be an aphrodisiac and this was the reason that monks in medieval times weren’t allowed to plant it in their gardens.
Yesterday, the sun was shining here in Le Marche and it felt like Spring but overnight it changed to stormy winds, snow and sleet – the Italian saying ‘Marzo è un mese pazzo’ is particularly fitting today. Luckily I cropped loads of rocket before the snow, which had self seeded from my orto and turned into a huge patch of wild rocket!
Ruccola leaves are peppery to taste and maybe like marmite, you either like the taste or not. I love the taste kick and it definitely livens up a green salad. Like spinach and kale, ruccola is packed full of green goodness and is easy to plant from seed. In Le Marche it grows best in Spring when everything is green and lush. In summer with hot temperatures I find it quickly runs to seed.
I’ve also added walnuts to the pesto but you can experiment with the addition of pine nuts, almonds or other nuts. My crop of walnuts needed using and I’m trying to use ingredients that are local to Cossignano and South Le Marche so I settled with half walnuts and half almonds. Thus this recipe is great for vegetarians and the walnuts provide some extra useful nutritional value as they are high in omega 3 fats as well as many other nutrients and anti oxidants.
What follows is a rough recipe for Ruccola and walnut pesto, but making pesto is more of a technique and you need to find out what balance of flavours works best for you. Also bear in mind that it tastes much milder when mixed with pasta than trying a teaspoon raw which is what I did and found it too pungent. Mixed with spaghetti it tasted fresh and green and not over peppery.
- A few good handfuls of fresh rocket ( I used the leaves and the stems)
- About 70 g parmesan
- A small handful of walnuts and almonds
- A few glugs of extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil
- squirt of lemon juice
- small clove of garlic
- salt and pepper
- Using a food mixer, or a pestle and morter if you want to make it all by hand, first chop the nuts, then add all the other ingredients and whizz to a rough paste, maybe adding more oil or more cheese, tasting as you go. Remember it can taste quite strong on its own but teamed with pasta it is much milder.
- Half I used with pasta and the other is in my fridge to use over the next few days.
- Pesto can be very successfully frozen, maybe in ice cube trays for handy little portions