Whether you’re looking to extend your growing season or just don’t have the space for an outdoor plot, indoor hydroponic systems can produce a bounty of herbs for fresh pesto year-round.
I first ate Pesto Genovese while in France and Switzerland 45 years ago and have been making it ever since. Over the years, I graduated from growing a few pots of herbs on a city balcony to a country herb garden.
When I was testing recipes for The Pesto Cookbook I relied on my raised bed gardens for producing the many basils, cilantro, tarragon, chives, and other tender herbs I needed, as well as hardier herbs such as rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano. Come September, however, when all the basils and my cilantro had succumbed to heavy harvesting and Virginia heat, followed by the onset of cooler weather, I sowed seeds indoors in my 9-pod hydroponic AeroGardens.
I have had three of these indoor gardens for several years (and recently bought their latest and largest version, called The Farm). Although I use mine primarily for growing basil, dill, parsley, and lettuce varieties in winter, with its grow light system on a timer the AeroGarden is ideal for growing other herbs and even vegetables, including mint, cilantro, thyme, tomatoes, and peppers. In fact, the AeroGarden makes an ideal place to start seeds for planting outdoors in spring, summer or fall. I bought the special seed starter tray and pods in order to start varieties I can’t find at my local Southern States farmers’ co-op or nursery.
Something that never fails to amaze me is the shorter germination time I get when using the AeroGarden. Basil, for example, germinates in four days! And where basil struggles to grow indoors in winter without a minimum of six hours of overhead light, in the AeroGarden, it will be ready for harvesting in three weeks. The basil I seed in late September is still going strong three months later, and will go even longer if it is harvested regularly. The same applies to lettuce varieties when cut back weekly at three to four inches high. Tomatoes and peppers seeded in April will grow all summer long.
As a cooking instructor I probably have every kitchen machine on the market, but the AeroGarden is hands down the one I find most useful.
This recipe from The Pesto Cookbook is a great one for spring, as it makes use of those early greens you may have in excess as your outdoor garden really takes off, or your indoor garden’s offerings call to you.
Ricotta and Garden Greens Pesto
This pesto is the perfect way to use baby chard, kale, spinach, or romaine lettuce greens that need thinning. Young beet greens are also a good option. Mature chard, kale, or beet greens can be tough, so avoid leaves that are bigger than your hand. Adding basil or cilantro will give the pesto a good sweet flavor; however, you might want to add a bit of honey, too, if the garden greens lack sweetness.
Makes about 1½ cups
- 1 cup immature garden greens
- 1 cup packed basil leaves or cilantro leaves with tender stems
- ½ cup snipped chives or scallions (green part only)
- ½ cup walnut halves, toasted if desired
- ⅓ cup ricotta cheese
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- 1–3 teaspoons honey
- 4–5 large cloves garlic
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Place all the ingredients in a mini food processor and process until nearly smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. If the texture seems a little thick, add up to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or water.
If you grow carrots or buy them whole, the young tops are also fair game in this recipe, but they do have an assertive flavor. Add a few at a time and keep tasting to see how you like them.