We are almost at the end of nasturtium season now, so last weekend we harvested the last stragglers to make way for our next Perma Club summer crops. Nasturtiums are one of my favourite edible flowers, reminiscent of my cheery grandfather who delivered them every Saturday to my sister and I back home. I recently rediscovered this gem of a flower, rich in colour and taste and able to thrive even in Hong Kong’s cooler seasons.
The plant can root itself almost anywhere. One of my seedlings blossomed from tiny beginnings as a Kadoorie cutting into a voracious, sprawling animal of a plant that refused to stay in what I thought was a generously sized terracotta pot on my front stoop. A friend guided me to plant empty pots of soil next to the main plant – to see how quickly it would root itself again and again. We found that nasturtium roots extremely quickly.
The leaves possess a wonderfully peppery sweetness, and the flower heads have an added crunch that really gives voice to any garden salad. In my own typical haste, I found myself quickly bored by this (I’ve never been a huge salad fan) and had to find further recipes to employ it. I discovered these two ridiculously simple recipes that use nasturtium as a pesto base – a great complement to pasta or risotto.
Pine nuts and walnuts go well with nasturtium. Walnuts tend to feel grittier on the palate, while pine nuts have a creamier texture once put through the food processor. If you want to go really old school and you have the time to spare, use a pestle and mortar and enjoy the satisfying banging-away process. With nasturtium pesto, I tend to forego the Tabasco in the recipe since the pepperiness of both the leaf and flower is enough to negate the need for more heat.
Nasturtium Pesto (Vegetarian)
• 2 cups nasturtium leaves, packed
• 1/2 cup nasturtium stems, sliced thinly
• 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1 cup olive oil
• 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil; prepare an ice-water bath and set aside. Add the nasturtium leaves to the boiling water; cook for 10 seconds. Drain and transfer to the ice-water bath until cool. Drain again and set aside. (You can go all food scientist and do the ice bath after blanching the leaves – it does make a difference and helps the leaves to retain their green colour – but to be honest either way produces a satisfying result.)
2. Place the leaves, pine nuts, garlic and oil in a blender; blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a medium-sized bowl and fold in the stems and cheese. Save some flowers to garnish – seeing that vibrant orange on your plate is a pop for the senses.
3. Add a pinch of sea salt and black pepper to season.
Nasturtium Pesto (Vegan)
• 4 cups nasturtium leaves, packed
• 3–5 cloves garlic
• 1 1/2 cups olive oil
• 1 cup walnuts
• 2 drops Tabasco sauce
1. Blend the ingredients as in the recipe above.
Tip: to store, freeze in ice-cube trays so that it’s easy to grab a portion whenever you need it. For meat and fish lovers, pesto works very well with grilled salmon, chicken or steak. Just add one pesto ice cube for each serving.