Cheap, Sustainable, Delicious: Garlic Mustard Pesto

A few handfuls of this punchy green will change your outlook on ‘weeds.’
May 3, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Ian Knauer is a regular contributor to TakePart. He has worked for Gourmet and is the author of the IACP Award–nominated cookbook The Farm.

I got an email last week from my friend and neighbor Tama Matsuoka Wong. It contained only one simple question: “Foraging in May?” My reply was even more concise—an emphatic “YES!”

Tama, who is the author of a wonderful book on the edible things that grow voluntarily in your backyard, Foraged Flavor, is also the forager for the venerable Daniel in New York City. When she asks you if you want to poke around in the woods for lunch, you say yes. Categorically. Tama also sells her findings at our local farmers market, and this week she’d rustled up a green that I had never heard of before—garlic mustard.

Here where we live, in Pennsylvania, the foraging season is in full swing and I’m stoked to get outside with Tama. Wild watercress and ramps, morels, dandelion, and chickweed are everywhere. And I love them all, but now that I’m hip to garlic mustard, my world is a better place.

Garlic mustard is not as aggressive as its name implies. Yes, it’s slightly both of those flavors, but it’s also somewhat broccoli-ish and has pretty white flowers at the tip of the plant, which I saved for a garnish. With the rest of the greens I made a pesto, whizzing them together with toasted walnuts, parmesan, and olive oil. It gave the greens a perfect way to show off their inherent bite (I skipped adding garlic to the pesto), and it paired incredibly with some broccoli rabe and halibut. The pesto would have been just as great tossed with pasta or even spread on crusty bread.

Even if you don’t live down the road from, arguably, the country’s most famous forager, you can reap the wild bounty of spring (and summer and fall) by picking up a copy of Tama’s book, which is beautiful and easy to use. You and your dinner will be better for it.

Garlic Mustard Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

4 cups garlic mustard greens

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Pulse the garlic mustard greens in a food processor with the walnuts, cheese, lemon juice, and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Then, with the motor running, slowly pour the oil through the spout. Toss the pesto with pasta and a 1/4 cup of pasta-cooking water, or spread, as is, on crusty bread.

Ian Knauer has traveled the world for Gourmet magazine, written for too many other magazines to list, cohosted three food television shows and written a cookbook, The Farm. @iknauer |