Radish leaf pesto. Sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? Last year when radishes were in season I learned that the leaves of radishes are completely edible. I thought that this was great news. I love radishes, and I like green leafy things. (n.b. I have to totally disagree with the Texas A&M Ag Department that they aren’t very palatable. They must be picky eaters!) Now, wherever I stumbled upon that bit of radish trivia suggested sauteing the leaves with garlic. That sounded OK to me, but I thought that a great thing to do with a bitter leafy green would be pesto. The nuttiness and creaminess of the pesto would contrast with the bitter leaves nicely, I figured. Arugula pesto is delicious; why not radish leaf?
Now, when I picked up radishes at the farmer’s market, I knew that this time I would eat the leaves in pesto. I also happened to have some garlic scapes. I thought that the fresh, green, and strong garlic flavor of the scapes would really bring flavor to the pesto in a way that would stand up to the boldness of the radish leaves.
As I had several questions regarding scapes after posting my Asparagus and Garlic Scape Tart, I thought I would provide a little info regarding the scapes. Garlic scapes are the flower stems that shoot up from garlic as it begins to mature. Much as an herb gardener snips off flowers to keep herbs flavorful and in season longer, garlic gardeners snip off the scapes to force a longer maturing period in the garlic. This produces garlic with better flavor and longer bulbs. The side benefit of this is the tender green scapes. They are full of garlic flavor. All scapes differ in flavor, and some are stronger than others. They cook much like asparagus, so they roast and grill well. They can also be used to add a green, garlic flavor to other foods. Like pesto. Garlic scape pesto as a standalone dish would be very good, too.
In addition to using the radish leaves and the garlic scapes in this dish, I veered from my usual choice of pine nuts for the pesto. Pine nuts are delicate and sweet. I wanted something a little earthier and nuttier that enhance these deep flavors better. I chose hazelnuts, and I think they worked beautifully. Walnuts would be good here also. You could use regular garlic in place of the scapes, should those not be available. Just chop up a few cloves and add them to the food processor. Whatever you do, though, don’t toss out those radish leaves! Their peppery, bitter flavor produces great pesto.
Radish Leaf Pesto
- 1 C radish leaves, stems removed
- 1/4 C garlic scapes, chopped
- 2 T marjoram, oregano, basil, or parsley
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/2 C chopped hazelnuts
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- fat pinch of crushed red pepper
- 1/2 – 1 C extra virgin olive oil
Run your knife through the radish greens to chop them up a bit. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the radish leaves, garlic scapes, your choice of the herbs, lemon juice, nuts, salt, and pepper. Pulse everything once or twice. Slowly drizzle in 1/2 C of extra virgin olive oil into the food processor while pulsing constantly. Remove the lid, and check the flavor. Season with more salt if necessary. Pulse the pesto with more oil if you desire a creamier flavor. If serving with pasta, thin the pesto with a splash of pasta cooking water before tossing with the pasta. Best served with farfalle or penne.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto.