Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Radish Greens Pesto

On a gorgeous January Sunday two weeks ago I spent the morning trailing Chef Norbert Moniz around the Hillcrest Farmers Market. Moniz runs the kitchens at Blind Lady Alehouse and Tiger! Tiger!.

I met him just before 8 a.m. at Tiger! Tiger! and we headed out in his fire engine red Ford Ranger pick up. On our drive over to the market Moniz told me that he's been in San Diego for about a year after spending six years working in Chicago. Originally from Santa Clarita, in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley, Moniz attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and then ran a little restaurant in Santa Barbara. Concerned that he wasn't learning enough, he gave his notice and packed two bags--one with his clothes and other personal stuff, the other with hockey gear, and took off for Chicago. It was there he seems to have truly learned his trade, after working for what he calls "a lot of great chefs."

After six years, the SoCal native had had enough of Chicago winters and learned from a friend working at Blind Lady Ale House that there was an opening for a chef at Tiger! Tiger!. He got the job. That was a year ago. Now he oversees Tiger! Tiger! and Blind Lady.

Clearly, Moniz loves what he does--to the extent that on Sundays, his day off, he's up early to pick up orders and shop at the Hillcrest Farmers Market and then deliver his groceries to the chefs at the three restaurants.

"I do it because it gets me up and out of bed, I get to hang out with friends at the market, and I can see what's coming in," he says. "And I can geek out with my chefs over the produce when I deliver it."

While we were picking up orders from farmers at the market I came across the most gorgeous Easter Egg radishes at the Maciel Family Farm stand, where Moniz bought beets, mixed greens, butternut squash, fennel, kale, turnips, and other vegetables. Over the years I've bought from them, too, and was delighted to meet owner Paul and his daughter Sara, who is very involved in 4H. The family farm is up in Bonsall, where they also grow flowers.

Moniz was singing the praises of the Maciel's mixed greens so I bought a bag, but I couldn't take my eyes off the plump and colorful radishes so I bought a bunch of them, too. When I got them home I cut the stems off and, unlike your typical sad, wilted supermarket bunches, they were so fresh I couldn't bear to toss them. I'd sautéed radish greens with garlic before so I knew how wonderfully peppery they are. But what to do with them now?

I had to decide quickly. What you learn about radish greens is that they have a pretty short shelf life. I could make soup with them, make a stir fry, roast them, add them to pasta or an omelet, or make a salad with them.

Or, hmmm, make pesto. I had all the ingredients I needed, including a fresh bottle of herbaceous young olive oil from California Olive Ranch that would match the spicy radish leaves.

The first thing you need to do with radish leaves is wash them. Thoroughly. As root vegetables, the greens are close to the ground and seem to attract dirt like spinach. I did several rounds in a salad spinner before I got the grit off to my satisfaction. Once washed and dried I gave them a rough chopping for the blender.

With that, it's just a matter of grating your favorite hard cheese (I used Parmesan), toasting walnuts to bring out their flavor, and trimming some garlic cloves. You'll want to add a touch of butter to round out the flavor, and some salt--but not much because of the saltiness of the cheese.

After that you'll put everything but the oil in the bowl of a blender or food processor and gradually add in the oil until it reaches a smooth and creamy pourable consistency. Then you have the perfect sauce for pasta, salmon, roasted vegetables and all sorts of other dishes.

You can find the Maciel Family Farm at the Hillcrest, Coronado, Oceanside, Old Town Temecula, and Old Town Poway farmers markets. 

Radish Greens Pesto
(printable recipe)
Yield: 2 cups

6 ounces radish leaves, with tough stems removed (save and snack on them or add to a stir fry)
1 cup walnuts, toasted
5 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
Pinch of salt
3/4 to 1 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil

After removing the tough stems, wash and dry the leaves thoroughly and roughly chop.

In the bowl of a blender or food processor, add the leaves, walnuts, garlic, cheese, butter, and salt. Put the lid on but leave the opening available to add the oil. Turn on the machine and slowly add the oil. Puree the contents until the mixture reaches a loose, creamy consistency. Periodically, stop and scrape down the sides to incorporate all the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings.

You can keep the pesto refrigerated for up to a week, although it's best used right away. Be sure to pour some oil over the surface to keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. Or you can freeze it.

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