This pesto is not only the best pesto I've ever made, it's the best pesto I've ever tasted, period. If you have cleavers, please try this pesto now. If you trust no other recipe on this site, trust this one. This garlicky cleavers pesto is something you need in your life.
This pesto is fast, simple and can go on absolutely ANYTHING, but of course, I enjoy it best simply tossed with some pasta. This wild herb pesto is a great condiment, it's super healthy because of the nutritious cleavers, and low-carb keto, as well as being vegetarian. If you omit the cheese, it's also Paleo and Vegan!
Cleavers are a very common backyard "weed" that's super easy to identify. If it's early to mid-spring, I guarantee that you can find some near you, perhaps in a local park. They have a great herbal flavor, vaguely like oregano, but mostly uniquely their own. Cleavers should be boiled before eating, and I prefer them pureed as well, to avoid textural issues.
The story of the blackened walnuts
Ok so I've made a variation of this pesto before, and it was good. I opted for walnuts instead of the pinenuts, because I felt that walnuts stronger flavor played out better with the cleavers. But the thing about walnuts is they are always a tad bitter. So I thought I'd try cooking them this time. The only problem was that I'd already dumped the cleavers water, and I didn't feel like waiting for the water to come back to a boil.
So I thought I'd pan-fry them instead. Well, we just bought a house with an electric stove, rather than gas, and I forgot that electric stays hotter for longer . . .and I wound up blackening the walnuts! At first I thought I'd ruined them, but then I tasted one, and I really liked the flavor! So I tossed them in. For whatever reason, they worked perfectly.
|Some leftovers of the blackened walnuts|
Garlicky cleavers pestoMakes about 2 cup of sauce
6 packed cups of cleavers
8-10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup quality extra virgin olive oil + more
3 oz. parmesan cheese, roughly chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Add in your cleavers, breaking apart any clumped stems, so the whole plant is exposed to the boiling water. Work in batches, if needed. Boil each batch for a solid 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. They will turn rich olive green.
- Drain the cleavers. If you like, reserve the boiling liquid and reduce to drink as a tea or use as a broth, it has kidney and liver supporting benefits.
- Add a very light drizzle of olive oil to a pan. Heat over medium-high heat, and toss in your walnuts. Stir constantly, and cook until the nuts have blackened areas on about 50% of their surface. It takes about 3-5 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan.
- In the same pan, over medium to medium-high heat, add about 1 tbs. of olive oil. Add in your garlic, and cook, stirring constantly, until softened and translucent.
- Add all the ingredients, including the cleavers, to the food processor. Work in batches, if needed. Puree until smooth, taste and season as needed.
- Serve with pasta, over meat (especially chicken and pork), vegetables; or as a dip or spread on bread, veggies or crackers. Pesto will keep for about 2 weeks in the fridge, and can also be frozen.
If you aren't sure how to identify cleavers please check out my post here!