As we snuggle in and mark off the chilly winter days, my thoughts seem to return often to the restorative power of home cooking and hearty “one-pot-wonders” as I call them.
It might be a slow cooked braise of lamb or beef, or a colourful, chunky vegetable curry that is woofed down in front of the fire, using some naan bread to almost eliminate the need to wash dishes!
But to start with I’m often hankering after a hearty bowl of winter-warming soup. I’ve recently shared my version of minestrone with you, but now it’s time to take a side track, lift the benchmark somewhat, with one of my favourite flavour ingredients – rocket.
I’m not much of a green thumb, but my boxes of rocket (or roquette, rucola, regular) have rewarded me in past weeks with on-going harvesting of these peppery salad leaves, and so I’m feeling quite chuffed!
With a few handfuls of leaves I proceeded to the kitchen, lifted out the hefty mortar and pestle and within minutes had a scrumptious jar of rocket pesto – so I was really rocketing along.
Firstly, I used some to spread on chunky slices of crusty sourdough bread, topped that with a little bit of poached chicken, some semi-dried tomatoes straight out of the jar, some finely sliced red onion and a generous amount of black pepper, lettuce and voila – a sandwich to fuel me through the afternoon. Delish! Rocket pesto can be the magic that lifts the ordinary to “gourmet”!
And now, several weeks later, that jar of rocket pesto has kept well in the fridge – the very last of it will be used tonight in yet another hearty bowl of minestrone – which this time I’ve made with very chunky ingredients including silverbeet (stalks ‘n all), carrot and some chilli – just to ramp up the “warming” factor to 9/10!
Basil is the traditional main ingredient in pesto, and is often added as the garnish for soups. Pesto – either rocket or basil based – can be used as a sauce for pasta; is delicious in grilled chicken or salmon; can be combined with a little sour cream or yoghurt to make a delicious dip; and lastly can be combined with some olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice to make a dressing for salads or grilled vegetables! Who would have thought the one gorgeous recipe could be so adaptable?
Pesto keeps well in a jar or airtight container in the fridge, and to extend its shelf life, top it with a little olive oil. It can be frozen – a good way to do this is to pop it into ice block moulds and then use as required – one cube or more at a time.
So let’s get cracking in the kitchen to launch our “rocket”! And as I’m borrowing from the fine Italian cuisine we usually associate with pesto, I’ll share my version of arugula pesto with you here.
1-1/2 cups rocket leaves – washed and spun dry in salad spinner
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup EVOO
Freshly ground black pepper and a little salt – to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts
Using a pestle and mortar, or a stick blender, begin by crushing the garlic with just a little salt. More salt can be added later, but the cheese will also be salty, so let’s allow for that. The salt assists with crushing the garlic – next add the rocket leaves – about half the quantity first. Add in the pine nuts, cheese and remaining leaves, pepper, and drizzle in the olive oil to make a paste. Store in a sterilised lidded jar or airtight container.