Mint Pesto

Purple Asparagus with Mint Pesto and Mint Dipping Sauce

Purple Asparagus with Mint Pesto and Mint Dipping Sauce

Spring mint shoots up in lush abundance. Early rains keep it coming. Its determined taproot spreads faster than weeds and will take over a garden plot in a season. Even with ruthless cutting and uprooting, mint marches on. It’s fragrant, bright green, and delicious. I keep picking it, trying to use a handful in dinner every evening. As a spring tonic it’s healthy; it aids digestion, calms nerves, and clears a winter cough. So before ripping mint out of your flowerbeds, keep some—and enjoy!

The wild plant I’m referring to here is plain spearmint. This is true mint, not to be confused with peppermint, pineapple mint, or chocolate mint. These varieties all have a place, but they seldom work in savory foods the way spearmint does. Spearmint is popular in peasant foods all over the world and is especially at home in India, the Levant, and North Africa. Mint stars in salads, fresh chutneys, raitas, stews, and teas.

I enjoy having a jar of mint pesto on hand to toss with the fresh asparagus we’ve been getting from our local farmers’ market. Pesto doesn’t always have to be basil, pine nuts, and cheese. After all, it’s basically pounded—think pestle—herbs, and it tastes freshest when it’s crushed in a marble or stone mortar away from the heat-producing motor of a blender or processor. This simple pesto of fresh mint leaves, garlic, salt, and olive oil will dress any lightly cooked vegetable, enliven steamed potatoes, or glaze a grilled fish fillet.

Mint Pesto

2½ oz. bunch fresh mint or 2 loose cups mint leaves, washed and dried

l large or 2 small cloves garlic

¼ teaspoon coarse salt

2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Use a sharp knife to cut mint leaves into fine chiffonade. (Cup a bunch of leaves in one hand and swiftly chop through them, continually retracting your fingers.) Slice peeled garlic.

Pound sliced garlic with salt using a mortar and pestle. Add the shredded mint a handful at a time crushing it to a rough paste. Continue until all the mint is pulverized. Work in the olive oil a tablespoon at a time. Store in a glass jar in fridge until ready to use. Makes ¼ cup fresh mint pesto.

Use to flavor vegetables along with a little of the cooking water. Stir a teaspoon into vinaigrette dressing or mix into plain yogurt for a mint dipping sauce.

Mary Jo's Cookbook available on Amazon

Mary Jo’s Cookbook available on Amazon

 

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