I tend to go a bit overboard with mint at the beginning of every summer. It’s always the first herb to come up in my garden and overtakes the herb patch with flagrant disregard for its neighboring herbs. I distinctly recall my highly-skilled gardener-parents’ frequent rumblings about “la menta” growing out of control when I was a kid. However, I quite like mint’s moxie. It’s as if she’s saying (and yes, I think of mint as a “she” and basil as a “he”), “They won’t use me for long and I know I’ll play second fiddle to basil soon enough so I’m staking my territory while I can!” Mint is like a childhood summer friend – you may not keep in touch during the rest of the year but as soon as you reunite, you pick up right where you left off. Mint, to me, embodies easy, elegant summer cooking – delicate yet bold and always refreshing to the palate
So now that I’ve completely gone mad with my personification of mint, allow me to tell you about one of my favorite preparations highlighting the summer herb. Italians have a knack for adapting their menus to the edicts of their markets and gardens. I love pesto in the summer and am a huge fan of traditional basil pesto. However, there isn’t usually enough basil in my herb garden in June and early July …and that’s where mint comes into play. Mint pesto is cooling, refreshing and comes as an unanticipated and welcome surprise to guests expecting pesto Genovese. I love it with toothsome trofie and shrimp lightly poached or sautéed with a bit of lemon juice (in which case, I eliminate the cheese). I also recently used mint pesto as a condiment for a sandwich filled with grilled zucchini and fresh mozzarella, a new favorite summertime lunch.
Hope you decide to go a little mint-crazy with me!
Pesto di Menta – Mint Pesto
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©
- 2 tightly packed cups of mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons of pine nuts
- 2 small garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
- 1 teaspoon teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt or kosher salt
- ½ cup mild extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano, plus more for serving (eliminate if serving the pesto with seafood)
Combine mint, pine nuts, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse until chopped. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow steady stream and pulse until well-combined. Add more olive oil if the mixture is too coarse. Remove the mixture to a bowl and stir in the cheese, if using. Taste and add more salt if needed. Buon appetito!
Extra Two Cents:
- Pesto freezes very well, but must be frozen without the cheese. If you plan on freezing it, a good trick is to pour it into an ice cube tray. Once the individual cubes are frozen, you can store them in a freezer-safe bag or container for up to three months and use as needed.
- Sometimes herbs oxidize and your pesto will develop a brown tinge after it hits the hot pasta. An ingenious tip from fellow Italian food blogger, Ciao Chow Linda – If you blanch and shock the leaves, your pesto will stay vibrantly green. I don’t know if it’s really worth this extra step if you’re making it for your family, but would definitely recommend it if you’re entertaining. Here’s what you do: Measure out the mint (or basil) leaves as indicated by the recipe above and prepare an ice bath (a large bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes). Bring a pot of (unsalted) water to a boil, add the mint leaves, count to 10, drain well and immediately add the mint to the ice bath. Let the mint sit in the ice bath for about 30 seconds and then drain. With your hands, gently squeeze out all of the excess water and proceed with recipe. Eccola! No more brown-tinged pesto!