Chickweed, or stellaria media, normally is the bane of the vegetable garden. It grows in great creeping matts, insinuating itself into the beds, twining itself around the plants we are trying to grow for food.
This time of year, chickweed is just beginning to bloom and form seeds here in the District of Columbia. So by all means, get rid of it wherever you find it, right?
Well, not so fast. Yes, we are pulling it up everywhere we see it, or cutting it down with the mower. We definitely do not want it going to seed. But did you know that chickweed is edible?
Chickweed is high in vitamin C, also in magnesium, potassium and calcium. It's sold in tablet form as an herbal supplement. But that is hardly my point. What I'm trying to get at is, although I would not go around harvesting chickweed to serve for dinner, I am using great gobs of it for the lunch I am preparing for approximately 30 people attending Day 2 of our D.C. Schoolyard Greening teacher's clinic, taking place today at the Washington Youth Garden.
That's right, I am serving a weed for lunch.
I recently acquired a copy of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved, by Sandor Ellix Katz. He's the fellow that wrote the book about wild fermentation that I am so often quoting when making sauerkraut. The more recent volume is about various food movements, such as the raw milk movement, community supported agriculture, seed saving, to name a few.
Around page 34, Katz pauses to compose an ode to chickweed, which he apparently devours by the fistful when he's out in the garden. Sounds a bit primitive, I agree. But he also gives a perfectly reasonable recipe for turning said weed into a pesto.
So I thought, why not?
I gathered up a bag full of chickweed from the garden, making my vegetable beds very happy. I washed it a couple of times, picking out stray bits of this and that. I then committed a horrible sin: I ran several cups full of chickweed through the food processor.
Sorry, but I was in a hurry. I violated all my personal rules about making sauces and pestos in an actual mortar and pesto. So sue me.
I removed the chickweed and dropped about five cloves of garlic into the processor. Then perhaps 1 1/2 cups of walnuts. Then back in went the chickweed and maybe 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil drizzled in while the machine was running. Then I added, oh, about 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and whipped that in. And maybe 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
So it has all the look and feel of a real pesto, this chickweed concoction. My wife wasn't so very enthusiastic about it. But for me it truely is a revelation.
But wait--we're not done. I had a container of Latin crema, or sour cream, in the fridge, so I added that, maybe 1/2 cup. Now the pesto rose to glorious heights. I will be mixing it with a pasta salad of penne, grilled chicken, red onion, artichoke hearts and capers.
Sounds pretty delicious and springlike, no?
The rest of the menu cosists of:
A whole wheat fussili pasta salad primavera with asparagus, carrots, peas and baby lettuces out of our garden.
A "Caesar" salad of lettuces that overwintered in the garden, with homemade croutons.
Frittata with collards and kale harvested from the garden, along with goat cheese and garlic chives.
We had originally hoped to make this meal around locally grown produce. Then we decided it was too early in the year to find local produce. But lookey here: Half of this meal is made with ingredients out of my own garden.