Pesto, one of Italy’s great gifts, is considered a summer dish. Its name comes from the tool with which it’s traditionally made, the pestle, used to crush the basil in a mortar along with salt, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pignoli (pine nuts). Cooks have learned that other greens make tasty pesto recipes, and other nuts can replace pignoli. Arugula makes a superb winter pesto. Some people toss it with hot pasta, but I prefer to keep it raw, to retain more flavor. I add pecans for their slight sweetness (they also cost a lot less than pignoli ), and I roast the garlic, to tone down its flavor. That adds a little sweetness, too.
Dip whatever you like into a bowl of pesto, but thinly sliced, raw baby turnips are a perfect vegetable for the job — as tasty as a cracker, and they don’t come in a box with an appetite-shattering list of unpronounceable ingredients. For a more formal event, you might turn this combo into a plate of canapés, laying the turnip slices flat and topping them with a dollop of pesto, but here’s the DIY (dip-it-yourself) version for everyday life.
• 1⁄3 cup pecans
• 1 head garlic, intact and unpeeled
• 1⁄3 cup plus 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 cup packed arugula, coarsely chopped
• 2 ounces (about 1⁄2 cup) grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Pinch of coarse sea salt and pepper
• 8 to 12 small baby turnips, trimmed to leave 1 inch green tops
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toast the pecans in a small pan over low heat on the stovetop, stirring often, until fragrant but not browned.
2. To roast the garlic, slice the head horizontally across the top, leaving it unpeeled and intact. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil into the head before wrapping in aluminum foil. Roast for about 45 minutes, or until the garlic has softened. Poke out half the cloves, squeeze the flesh out of the skins, and set aside. Leave the remaining half for another day.
3. Put pecans in a food processor (a mini-version is perfect for this) and grind until fine. Add the arugula, and pulse the motor while dribbling in the remaining olive oil. Add the roasted garlic, cheese, salt and pepper; pulse briefly; and remove to a small bowl for dipping. (If not for immediate use, refrigerate, and then whisk before serving. It will keep overnight, but is better when used the same day it’s made.)
4. Slice the turnips from top to bottom with a small, sharp knife. If freshly harvested, include a bit of the greens with as many slices as possible. Set the bowl of dip on a plate or platter, and arrange the turnip slices around it. Serve at room temperature.
Want to learn more about cooking and growing arugula and turnips? Read Growing Arugula and Turnips for the Table for more information.
Barbara Damrosch farms and writes with her husband, Eliot Coleman, at Four Season Farm in Harborside, Maine, where sturdy bowls of turnip soup chase the chill on cool winter evenings. She is the author of The Garden Primer and, with Coleman, The Four Season Farm Gardener’s Cookbook.