That's spring, for you non-Francophones out there. As I discussed in my last post, spring, glorious spring has sprung in Toulouse--as I write this, my bedroom windows, which open on our huge, overgrown garden, are flung wide, allowing soft, cool breezes and lazy sunlight to gently filter in.
I really lucked out with this garden. You see, I set up my housing here in Toulouse before I left New York, taking a gamble on my room, housemates, etc. I'm happy to say that the place I live is truly better than anything I could have imagined: situated at the end of a quiet block, it's a big, two-story house with a large, well-stocked kitchen, and of course, the garden that I just mentioned. As I talked about in some of my container garden posts from 2009, I've been growing more and more interested in gardening and agriculture--as someone who's obsessed with food, it's natural to want to understand more about where it comes from, and especially gratifying to be able to grow it yourself. Serendipitously, my housemate Ben is an experienced jardinier, having lived on a farm for a while last year, and he's been maintaining our fruit and vegetable plants this year. When I first arrived, in September, I benefited from the last of the season's ripe, juicy tomatoes, and harvested some small cauliflowers and cabbages this winter. Right now, though, it's all about the early-spring crops of lettuces and tender green spinach:
The spinach we've got just grows and grows, so I've been trying to take advantage of it by mixing it into nearly everything I cook: tossing some into a bowl of warm pasta; sautéeing it with mushrooms; folding it into rice. Because there's so much of it, the thought occurred to me to try to make something that would call for a lot. And then it came to me: pesto! I love pesto, and I love that you can make it out of nearly anything green (arugula, as well as fresh herbs like parsley and cilantro come to mind)--not just the basil that most people associate it with--and that you can incorporate nearly any type of nut, and not just pine nuts. What I happened to have on hand were some flaked almonds, so I decided to use those. To tie it all together, I added just a little bit of something that goes wonderfully with both spinach and almonds--lemon. If you've ever eaten the classic Italian side dish of some quickly sautéed spinach finished with a refreshing spritz of lemon juice, you know what a natural pairing the two ingredients make. Same goes for almonds and lemon: many dessert recipes--like this one for pound cake, this one for madeleines, and this one for cookies--call for both. So for my pesto, I added a touch of freshly grated zest. The fresh spinach, the subtle almonds and the tart lemon combine to produce a pesto that's a lot lighter and brighter than the ones you might be used to. Spring in a bowl!
Spinach and Almond Pesto with Lemon
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
- 1/2 c. flaked or slivered almonds, or use slightly less whole peeled almonds (if your nuts are fresh, there is no need to toast them. If they're not, toast in a pan or low oven until fragrant and allow them to cool.)
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tsp. grated lemon zest
- 1 tsp. salt or more to taste
- About 6 oz. or 4 c. packed spinach leaves, washed and roughly torn
- 1/2 c. olive oil or more as needed
- 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1. Place almonds, garlic, lemon zest and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until nuts are ground, but not too finely.
2. Add spinach, in batches if necessary, and pulse to combine. Once all spinach is added, leave the food processor running as you drizzle in the 1/2 c. olive oil. If mixture remains too thick, add more oil.
3. Scrape pesto into a bowl. Add parmesan and some grinds of black pepper and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or pepper as needed. Store in the refrigerator for one week or in the freezer for one month.