Chickweed salad, pesto and gardeners first aid

Chickweed Stellaria media is a highly nutritious plant popular in Victorian times with the leisure class for use in salads and sandwiches.  Today it is called a weed.

I discovered this luscious patch of chickweed when searching for hen greens down our valley near the pond. A windrow of soil from the sediment was made when we reconstructed the pond in January.

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This is the pond in January – to the right and behind the pond is the long windrow or heap of composting soil – rather like a raised garden bed.
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Now the grass has regrown around the pond and the windrow is well covered with weeds.  On the right hand side are potatoes I sowed late January. Lexie our dog loves the fact that the pond is filling as she enjoys a swim.

Never curse the arrival of chickweed.  It indicates that your soil has a balanced pH and is fertile.  Apart from the sediment being rich in organic matter the chickweed has grown larger in the windrow because its location is moist and has some shade.

Not only will the hens benefit from this terrific patch of chickweed, so will I.

My first thought is to use it in a salad but unlike the previous salad posting it won’t just be an extra it will be the green star …because of it’s size and lushness.  I added some freshly shelled walnuts I purchased from Valda at the Otago Farmers Market, a few olives, and my favourite for lunchtime salads – fried Halloumi cheese. Dressing is just a squirt of lemon juice and a splash of avocado oil.

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These chickweed leaves are more the size of corn salad than the chickweed I would normally find growing in my veggie garden. You can replace the chickweed for either corn salad or miners lettuce as an alternative with this combination.

A warning though – chickweed doesn’t do well under refrigeration, you need to plan to use it on the day it is picked. So after my lunch I decided to use the rest with some Italian parsley that also needed to be harvested before being trampled to death by builders boots.

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I filled my food processor with around 50/50 chickweed and parsley – removing the long stems off both, so it was mainly leaf.

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This really reduces down when chopped. I crushed a small clove of garlic in salt and added it to the chopped greens.

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Then the freshly shelled walnuts (you can use any nuts you like). Pour in extra virgin olive oil to make a puree.

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Mix in a little parmesan if you want a more creamy texture and finish off with a squeeze of lemon juice.   The lemon juice prevents the pesto from losing it’s bright green colour and also adds an acid flavour balance.  Squeeze, then taste, then add more. You are better to be conservative and add to taste when it comes to lemon juice or vinegar.

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Finally drizzle over some oil to give the pesto some real gloss.

This pesto can be kept for at least a week in the fridge and there are lots of ways you can use this nutritious spread in a sandwich, pizza, added to pasta or as a flavour boost to any number of dishes.  

Chickweed is recognised for its medicinal qualities and a tissane or tea is used to reduce water retention in the body. It can be made into vinegar or an ointment and used as a poultice.  It has been called a gardeners first aid plant because it is said to draw out splinters in a much gentler way than a pair of tweezers will.  You can use  a poultice or dip your finger into a strong tea solution…and it is also good for relieving nettle stings.

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Raw it has a good helping of vitamin C and even has vitamin B, assorted minerals, and potassium and all for free in your garden.  It is most abundant late winter early spring and is best harvested before it produces it’s tiny star like white flowers and equally tiny seedpods.  Give it a go!

A spring salad with garden pesto

My two boys Gus and Francis both work in the food business so I must have done something right in my kitchen to inspire them.   I  have decided to write this blog for my friends who would like me to share my recipes and ideas for making the most of seasonal food.  

I have a large garden to call on to create my dishes.   I love to forage for free tasty additions to meals.  

I am inspired by:  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall because of his connection with growing the food he cooks, Lois Daish who was into seasonal food before it became fashionable, Julie Le Clerc and Rowan Bishop who give healthy alternatives to favourites,  and our own local farmers market cook, Alison Lambert, a real food enuthusiast and who manages to create an array of dishes under difficult weather and space restrictions.

So my first shared recipe is something I whipped up for lunch….

Risoni Salad with Beetroot, Miners Lettuce and Hazelnuts.
Risoni is a pasta shaped like rice and has such a wonderful soft texture – it looks like rice but is soft like pasta and it makes a great host for a flavoursome garden pesto*.   Cook 1 cup of risoni (this will give 2 big helpings) until tender in boiling well salted water – drain and add pesto and a dash of olive oil or one of my favourites Avocado and Lime oil and season with salt and pepper.   I also added chopped olives (about 10 kalamata olives).    This is the base of the salad and you can add a number of toppings but I used miners lettuce but you can use rocket if you prefer a peppery tang.   I like the vivid green and slightly succulent texture of miners lettuce.  (once you have this in your garden you will always have it).   I grated cooked beetroot but you can use fresh beetroot.  Top with chopped and toasted hazelnuts or any nuts or seeds you want (but best you toast whatever you add).  Squeeze over a little lime or lemon juice and a splash of olive oil – and there you have a delcious lunch for a perfect spring day like today on the Otago Peninsula.

*Garden Pesto – a paste of herbs, oil and nuts that it a flavour booster to dishes that transforms  the ordinary to become a taste sensation
This is so easy to make and you dont have to only use basil.  I use whatever is growing in the garden, often using parsley as a base.  For example for this pesto I used sorrel, parsley, chervil, and rocket.   I take only the leaves of the parsley not the stalks.   Put all your chosen green herbs into a small processor or stick mixer, add a clove of garlic finely cut, an anchovy if you like to add some kick, salt and pepper, a handful of roasted nuts (I use almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts as pinenuts are so expensive) and enough olive or a mix of olive and other vegetable oils to make into a paste.  Pesto usually has parmesan cheese added but I prefer the cleaner taste of just oil and the herbs.   Lastly add lemon or lime juice to suit your taste so that it keeps its colour.   Always taste to see if it needs addition of lemon juice or salt/pepper.  Will keep in the fridge for up to a week and is a great simple quick meal when spooned through pasta with a little grated parmesan and extra oil and chilli if you like.