Nasturtium leaves are completely edible, and have a spicy, peppery bite similar to arugula.
When used in place of basil, nasturtium will add a radish-type ‘bite’ and a very slight earthy flavor to the pesto. It’s hard to pick out when added to a pasta or soup, but you could use a mix of basil and nasturtium leaves if you want more of a traditional pesto flavor.
This is a humble little sauce, and I don’t want you to think it will win any awards or turn you into a celebrity chef. However, I my friends always ask to take some of my nasturtium plants home after trying this sauce, along with the recipe.
If you have a yard full of nasturtium, this is a great way to use it up. You could give some as gifts to your earth-loving or frugal friends, and freeze the rest to brighten up a winter meal.
- 50 large nasturtium leaves or twice as many if small
- 1/4 cup pistachios or favorite nut
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 pinch red pepper optional
- salt and pepper to taste
- Wash the nasturtium leaves and shake them dry (they can be slightly wet). Toast the nuts (it intensifies their flavor and I love it) – put them in a dry pan over medium heat, stirring every 30 seconds or so. Cook for 2-3 minutes – until they start to smell good. Then take them off the heat, or they will burn (fast!)
- Fill your food processor up 3/4 of the way, loosely, with leaves. Blend until they are chopped. Add more leaves, blend. Continue this until all of the leaves are blended up.
- Add in the pistachios and blend until finely chopped.
- Add in the cheese, red pepper and half the oil. Blend.
- Add more oil until it’s the desired consistency. This will highly depend on how much nasturtium you used.
- Taste. Add salt, black pepper, more nuts or more cheese until you like how it tastes.
Recipe notes & tips
- Nuts: use any nut you like or have lying around. I can’t picture a nut that wouldn’t work well.
- Working with nasturtium: As explained in “How to use nasturtium,” all parts of the plant are edible. While the flavor is pretty similar, there are slight differences.
- Using stems: nasturtium stems work great in this pesto. But you might want to roughly chop them up so long stems don’t get tangled in the food processor (thanks to Victoria’s suggestion in the comments).
- Free form pesto: pesto is really one of those things you taste as you go. Then adjust, adding more of whatever you think is missing. You can’t go wrong when you just follow your instincts.
- If something feels missing: I like to brighten it up when I add it to pasta, with lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Early vs late-season leaves – In spring, the leaves are smaller, more tender, and more mild. If the leaves taste too strong or are too tough later in the season, you could try blanching them first. You Grow Girl has instructions for that.
Inspiration for the nasturtium pesto recipe
My nasturtium has been taking over my yard this spring, so I wanted to use it up as I cut it back, saving it from the compost pile. I thought a pesto would be perfect so I dug through a few ‘regular’ pesto recipes to get some ratios of oil-to-stuff. Then I built on it from there.
Try it on pasta with the recipe below.
Want to use more flowers?
Like to eat with the seasons?
If you do, check out my produce guides and recipes for fruits & vegetables that are currently in season.
Each month highlights recipes that use produce exclusively in-season (or available year-round at high quality). Each fruit & vegetable also has an in-depth guide that shares tips on how to pick the best ones up from the market, how to store them, and interesting tidbits on prepping or nutrition.
How else do you use nasturtium?
Every year I get overwhelmed with Nasturtium that regrows from the past year. I’m always looking for ways to use it, rather than cutting it back and composting it. Have you found other ways to use it? Share in the comments.