Ground Elder Pesto [Recipe]
Ground elder is growing profusely in our garden at the moment. It is quite an invasive plant and can be very hard to get rid of once it takes hold. I only recently discovered that the leaves are edible. They taste a little like parsley but with the bite and consistency of spinach. Rather than bemoan the fact that my garden was full of weeds I decided to get inventive and use this natural bounty to make some tasty meals.
The leaves work well mixed into a green salad. They add a hint of flavour without overpowering the salad. However, as we’re not quite into salad season yet I wanted to try the ground elder in a warm dish and decided to try it as a pesto.
Pesto is usually made using basil leaves, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil. I have swapped the pine nuts for pistachios, which are much more cheaply and readily available here in Lithuania. As the nuts I bought were already roasted and salted and as pistachios have a deeper flavour than pine nuts, I found I didn’t need the parmesan cheese for seasoning. I’m actually not a huge fan of olive oil – I find the taste a bit peppery – so I used rapeseed oil instead. Any vegetable oil that is liquid at room temperature will work.
Try to pick smaller leaves from plants that have not yet started to flower. Depending on the weather in your area, you should be able to pick leaves until well into June.
This pesto is incredibly flavourful. It lacks the aniseed flavour that comes from the basil in regular pesto but has a deep savoury flavour from the ground elder and nuts and a hint of acid from the lemon juice.
I had this pesto for dinner stirred though some warm spaghetti. I topped it with some crispy bacon bits (not shown in photos) and a generous grating of parmesan cheese to create a very satisfying meal.
Ground Elder Pesto
65 g | 2.5 oz ground elder leaves
100 g | 3.5 oz roasted & salted pistachio nuts in shells (or 50 g | 1.75 oz if already shelled)
100 mls | 3.5 fl oz rapeseed (canola) or sunflower oil, plus extra to cover if storing
1 lemon, juice only
1 clove garlic
¼ tsp fine sea salt
- Wash the ground elder leaves and spin dry in a salad spinner or pat dry with a clean tea towel.
- Shell the pistachio nuts, if not already shelled.
- Place the ground elder leaves, pistachios, oil, lemon juice and garlic into a food processor or blender.
- Process the ingredients for about 30 seconds. Open the mixer, scrape down the sides with a spatula or spoon, replace the lid and process for a further 30 seconds. The final pesto should have a slightly course, grainy consistency.
- Taste the pesto. Depending on how salty your pistachios were you may need to add a little salt. I found that an extra ¼ teaspoon of salt resulted in a perfectly seasoned pesto.
- If not using the pesto right away transfer it to a clean jar and cover the top of the pesto with oil. The oil keeps air away from the pesto and helps it to keep for longer. I have kept my pesto in the fridge for up to a week. It may last longer.
- Use the pesto as you would a basil pesto. Serve spread on warm slices of sourdough toast or stir through warm pasta for a quick and nutritious meal. This quantity of pesto is enough for two generous servings combined with 200 g | 7 oz of spaghetti.