The other day a good friend of ours came over to help Scott and I tackle the project that is our basement. It was a task that has been put off since winter, so it was nice to finally have it finished. And honestly I was also relieved that the bulk of the work was done mostly by them, considering it's basically a spider filled cold space just tall enough to stand in, which isn't exactly my idea of fun.
Once finished, I found them both roaming about the yard, ice cold water in hand, inspecting various wild plants in an overgrown patch just beyond where our yard ends. Our friend excitedly mentioned he thought there was a kiwi tree and what he thought was mint in our yard. Technically it's in our neighbors yard, but we looked it up and discovered that in fact it was a kiwi tree! However the mint was, what I originally thought, lemon balm and we also discovered wild fennel, which is more of an herb then the more popular bulb variety. A conversation with the neighbors one day revealed that in deed the kiwi tree does produce fruit and we could have as much as we wanted once it was ripe, and as much lemon balm as we could eat too.
So what does one do with lemon balm? Well, it's probably most know for flavoring drinks and making tea. A quick search revealed that many people use it in various desserts, a topping to fish, and combined with fruits or vegetables. You can even crush it, rub it on your skin and it supposed to help repel mosquitoes. It's in the mint family but the flavor is more delicate and hints at a taste of lemon.
Lately I've been noticing a trend in pesto making. It has drifted away from its more common form of basil, pine nuts, garlic, oil, and Parmesan, and everywhere I look people are embracing different herbs and nuts for a whole new taste. I love this and thought a pesto would be the perfect thing for lemon balm. Look for lemon balm at your local farmers market if your lucky, or try growing it yourself. It's supposed to be as easy and quick as mint; you may even have some in your back yard too.
I decided I wanted to make this pesto in true Italian from by chopping everything by hand. I used a sharp knife, but the results would have been better if I had a mezzaluna. Even though it was a bit thicker than if I had run everything in a food processor I really loved the texture and rustic look of it mixed with the pasta. Try it either way you prefer, it will still taste the same. I was going to use spaghetti noodle for this originally but there were none to be found in my cupboard, so I swapped in the penne, you can use which ever. I served this right along side my spinach strawberry and radish salad for a really great summer meal.
Lemon Balm Pesto Pasta
2 cups packed lemon balm
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup walnuts
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
salt to taste
1 pound whole wheat pasta
Start chopping a 1/3 cup of the lemon balm with the garlic. Continue adding the lemon balm, a 1/3 cup at a time, waiting until each addition is finely chopped and worked in.
Once all the lemon balm is minced in, start incorporating the walnuts into the mix. Keep chopping until everything is very finely minced, this whole process should take about 15-30 minutes, so give yourself some time.
Place everything in a bowl, add lemon, oil, and salt. Stir to mix well.
If you would like to make this in a food processor, combine the lemon balm, garlic, and walnut. Give it a quick whirl until everything is finely chopped, but not completely. Add the lemon and slowly drizzle in the oil while the machine is running. Salt to taste.
For the pasta, bring a large salted pot of water to a boil. Cook your pasta according to the package directions, drain and place in a serving bowl. Scoop out the fresh pesto, stir to combine well with the pasta and serve. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, tightly covered for a couple days.