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Your new favorite pesto has an unusual main ingredient: Swiss chard stalks.
I'm always seduced by the Swiss chard bundles with a mix of colored stalks. Nothing against white-stalked chard, but given the choice, I go rainbow all the way. It’s almost like buying a bouquet of flowers; I’m mainly doing it for the joy the pop of colors bring me.
Of course I’m not just looking at them—since I hate to waste food, I eat the stalks, too. And by now we all know that there are a multitude of options for them beyond merely chopped and sautéed along with the leaves: They can be pickled, braised, grilled, and gratinéed.
To be honest though, much of the time I was eating them out of a sense of duty rather than an unbridled sense of enthusiasm over chard stems. All of that changed when I learned they could be blended into a silky smooth hummus-like dip, and now, this more textured pesto. I hear you groaning, and I know what you’re thinking: There are all sorts of way to get creative with pesto, surely you don’t need another pesto recipe in your repertoire. You’d be wrong though—you absolutely do.
Even when I (perhaps misguidedly) used red stalks (see above predilection for colorful chard) to make this and created a bowl of purplish-grey sludge, I still knew it was something special. I handed my very trusting mother a spoonful and told her to try it. She took a bite and—speaking so quickly that she was almost tripping over her words—asked: “What is this?! Can I have more?”
As demonstrated by my experience, the color of stalks you use will impact the color of the pesto. QueenSashy notes that you can add 3 ounces of Pecorino Romano: We're really stretching the definition of pesto by not including it, but the mix of cumin and fennel results in a blend so flavorful you won’t need to add cheese. She suggests using this pesto on pasta, sandwiches, and as a dip. I agree, but highly recommend sneaking bites straight from the refrigerator, too.
Makes one pint
6 ounces Swiss chard stalks (from about 1 pound of Swiss chard)
1 cup pepitas
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed
3 to 4 medium garlic cloves
3/4 cup packed parsley leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon lemon juice, or to taste
Zest of 1/2 lemon, grated on a Microplane
Know of a great recipe in the Food52 archives that uses an overlooked kitchen scrap (anything from commonly discarded produce parts to stale bread to bones and more)? Tell me about it in the comments: I want to know how you're turning what would otherwise be trash into a dish to treasure!
Photos by James Ransom