Grow your own pesto greens

Think outside the basil box when it comes to pesto and grow and make your own from other garden greens…

The gorgeous colour of homemade pesto made with homegrown greens

Why get in a basil rut? The word pesto is actually a generic term – coming from the word pestâ or pestare, which means ‘to pound’ or crush’. It does not refer to the greens at all. So in many parts of the Mediterranean, you’ll find parsley pesto with capers or pesto made with garlic scapes (great served with eggs). There’s pesto ‘rosso’ made with sun dried tomatoes too and in Germany, Grüne Sosse. This is a kind of salsa verde made with herbs such as sorrel, chervil, or even borage, with sour cream and vinegar.

Homemade pestos blended with rocket and pistachio, basil and almond and chard and walnut

While there’s still debate on the right quantities of garlic, salt and cheese needed for pesto. And whether it should be smooth or speckled with green. Or for that matter, what kind of nuts to use. The main ingredient can be freely tweaked depending on what’s to hand in the vegetable patch.

Basil can be hard to grow in our unpredictable British climate

Spoon it into spaghetti. Mash it with potato. Spread it on a pizza base. However you use yours, here’s five ways to pep up your pesto…


1. Radish Leaf & Almond

Not just good for roots, radishes can be used for their young leaves too. Sow regularly until the end of August, 1cm deep, and they’ll germinate in as little as four days. Grab two good handfuls and remove the stems, placing them in a food processor with 2oz hard cheese, 2oz almonds, 1 clove garlic and the juice and zest of half a lemon. Add 2tbsp oil, or more depending on the consistency you like, and season with salt and pepper.

Think outside the box and throw radish leaves into the mix

2. Chervil & Pine Nuts

Sow March to August in 1cm deep rows or in pots. (Remove the flower heads or it will self-seed everywhere!) This tangy pesto is perfect mixed with goat’s cheese for a dip. Combine 2 handfuls of chervil with the same ratio of cheese, garlic, lemon juice and oil as above, and add 2oz of pine nuts.


3. Coriander & Pumpkin Seed

Sow thinly in pots or trays from June to September. (Sow in autumn and you can pick sparingly over winter.) Fabulous with roasted squash fresh off the barbecue, this Mexican-style pesto combines 2 good handfuls of coriander leaves with 1oz toasted pumpkin seeds, 2tbsp lime juice, 2oz hard cheese, 1 clove garlic and olive oil. Season to taste with lots of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.


4. Broccoli & Walnut

Sow in spring indoors in pots, then transplant outdoors once all frost has passed – planting so the baby leaves are flush with the soil. Give them a bit of elbow room – around 30cm between plants and harvest from summer through autumn depending on the variety. Boil one head of broccoli florets for 5 minutes and add to a blender with the same ratios of cheese, garlic, lemon juice and oil in Recipe 1, adding 2oz walnuts at the end. Season with salt and pepper to taste and blitz to a smooth or chunky paste, depending on how you like it! Stir this mean-green pesto through beans, rice or pasta.  


Nasturtium leaves make a peppery pesto – and you can use the flowers in salads and pickle the seeds like capers

5. Pea shoot and cashew

Sow pea seeds into a seed tray filled with soil (you can even used the dried ones sold in supermarkets). Water and place somewhere warm and bright. Snip the heads as they reach 2cm high – and keep sowing for tasty shoots all summer. Blitz three good handfuls of shoots with 50g cashew nuts and 3tbsp olive oil – and add cheese and seasoning as above. 

I’ll be chatting about growing edible flowers on my next BBC Radio Northampton GYO slot! Tune in at midday on July 24, 2019. 

How to root herbs in water

Popped into pasta, snipped into salads and infused in teas, herbs are one of the kitchen garden’s most versatile plants. Here, I show you how  to grow them from cuttings…

If seeds are a step too far and plants too expensive, then ask a friend or neighbour for a herb cutting. You could even use culinary herb plants from the supermarket. 

To get started, cut a length of stem about 4-6 inches long, just below a leaf joint. Cut on a slant and use clean scissors. You want to give your little cuttings the best start. Take off the lower leaves and pop your snippet in a vase of water. Now go and make a cup of tea…

Ensure you change the water every few days to avoid bacteria build-up. In a week or two you should see small white roots creeping out of the bottom of the stem. Once these get to 1-2 inches long, plant into a small pot. Your herb will also grow happily in water, but you’ll need to top up with fresh water regularly.

Rooting in water works best with soft-stemmed herbs such as basil, lemon balm and mint. You can use woody herbs such as rosemary and sage too. Just make sure you cut from the lush, green new growth not the brown, older stems. Happy herb growing!