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Summer solstice pesto

2013 June 24


Summer arrived with a big, hot bang last Friday. We went from gorgeous, breezy days built to linger in the garden, to soupy, sun-scorching 90′s — the kind of intense heat you feel when you hold the blow dryer too close to your scalp. Welcome to summer in the Midwest.


My gardens, meanwhile, greeted summer with a wonderful intersection of spring and summer produce. Kale still grows in abundance (although a healthy cabbage moth population means I’m picking green looper worms off their leaves nearly every day, yay me), garlic scapes are young and tender, and frequent spring rains have produced a gratitude-inducing bounty of herbs.

Some herbs, such as basil, benefit enormously from a mid-summer whacking. Cutting basil stems back about halfway, just about a lateral leaf pair, will force the plant to produce new main branches from not just one, but two sources. By August, all plants will be lush and bushy with fragrant basil, ready for all manner of tomato salads. Normally, such a trimming occurs in mid-July, but perfect (nearly unheard of) spring weather gave my basil garden a nice jumpstart.

In my kitchen, lots of basil = lots of pesto. My favorite condiment in the whole world. Easy to whip up, it keeps marvelously in the freezer, and the flavor varieties are endless, as are its uses.


It was a busy meteorological weekend all-around. Summer solstice arrived, as did a Super Moon. My neighborhood is ringed thickly in tall-growing trees, so it’s hard to catch the moon fat and hovering on the horizon. I took this photo just as twilight fell, catching the super-bright orb through a stand of persimmon trees.


My freezer is now stocked with this lovely summer pesto, full of healthy kale, flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, basil, dill, and garlic scapes. (And as a side note, I’ve recently discovered that I prefer almonds in my pesto over pine nuts — a happy realization, since pine nuts are over-the-top expensive. Hemp seeds also find their way into my pestos — an extra healthy boost.)

Fragrant and vegetal, this kale and herb pesto made — among other things — an incredible vinaigrette for the seared pepper salad I served on Sunday (2 tablespoons pesto, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, a drizzle of water to thin).

Summer Solstice Pesto

To make this recipe vegan, substitute the cheese with nutritional yeast.


  • 1-2 large leaves, lacinato kale, central stem removed
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves (about 20 medium leaves)
  • 1 handful fresh dill fronds (thick stems removed)
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro (thick stems removed)
  • 1 handful fresh flat-leaf parsley (thick stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds (optional)
  • 1 garlic scape, roughly chopped (or 1 clove of garlic)
  • kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast (optional)
  • extra virgin olive oil


  1. Tear the kale leaves into large chunks and place in a bowl, along with a quick drizzle of olive oil. Massage gently with your fingertips, until the leaves turn a deep green. Move them to the bowl of a food processor.
  2. Add the four herbs to the food processor, and pulse until chopped. Add the almonds, hemp seeds (if using), and garlic scape/garlic clove, and pulse again until the almonds are well chopped.
  3. Season with a big pinch of salt, and add the cheese and nutritional yeast (if using). Pulse to combine. Taste a small bit of the mixture, and add more salt if necessary.
  4. Drizzle olive oil through the chute in a slow, thin stream with the machine running, until the pesto begins to pull away from the bowl. Stop, and scrape down the sides of the bowl. The consistency should be thick and slightly chunky – the herbs won’t be completely broken down. If necessary, pulse again.
  5. Serve immediately, refrigerate for several days, or freeze for the long-term. Pesto keeps beautifully.
Prep Time: 15 minutes       Yield: about 1/3 cup pesto


4 Responses
  1. Darlynne permalink
    June 24, 2013

    It seems you could make a pesto with almost any green leafy plant or herb, as long there’s plenty of basil, it’s that flexible. Man, I wish I could grow cilantro, but that’s not happening. I am eyeing the basil bush, however, and the bag of kale leaves from the CSA, and I have almonds …

  2. Nancy permalink
    June 24, 2013

    How do you keep the pesto from turning black? I’ve made it before and the next day it has turned very dark, almost black.

    • Karen @ Leaf & Grain permalink*
      June 24, 2013

      That’s oxidation working on the cut edges of the herbs. You can prevent the darkening with a little olive oil. Spoon the pesto into a container, leaving at least a 1/2″ of headroom. Smooth the top over, pushing the pesto all the way to the sides of the container, to create a solid, flat surface of pesto. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top, enough to completely cover the surface of the pesto. Seal with a lid, then store in the fridge on a flat surface, to keep the oil level. The oil blocks oxygen from reaching the pesto, keeping it bright and green. When ready to use, pour off the oil (if you used a lot), or, do what I do, and just mix the oil into the pesto.

  3. June 26, 2013

    This is a really cool twist on the traditional pesto. Never thought to use kale before. But I bet it adds a nice bitter note to the pesto. Definitely will have to try it!

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