Simon’s Simples: Garden Rocket

Rocket Pesto

Garden Rocket

This is a particularly useful recipe as it gives you a way to preserve the taste and some of the nutrition of powerful greens for a couple of months. The recipe works well with nettles, wild garlic (Ramsons) and in this case – a Rocket glut from the garden.

Just a word of caution with the nettle pesto recipe.  The Italians make it in the springtime and call it ‘pesto d’urtica’, other people call it ‘nesto’. You have to remove the stingers before you make it by dropping the leaves into boiling water for one or two minutes and stirring. To retain the colour and freshness, drop the hot nettle leaves straight into ice water, then drain and dry them as much as possible, even squeezing out the moisture inside a dry tea towel. Back to the rocket recipe…

What do you do when your garden is heaving with rocket, just about to flower and bolt into seed? You have given everyone you know bunches of Rocket. You have harvested and eaten it at nearly every meal. You love its slightly bitter, peppery and stimulating taste but it only seems to last for the first bit of the summer. How can you ‘keep it coming’?

One answer is Rocket Pesto, a way of conserving this lovely taste of summer for six months or so.

Rocket (Eruca sativa) is a member of the Brassica family, so called because of its tendency to bolt before your very eyes. This family of vegetables are well known for their anti-cancer properties when cooked properly (ie steamed) or eaten raw. Erucin is a cancer chemopreventive agent made from Rocket leaves!

Making Rocket Pesto

Ingredients: Rocket, crushed garlic cloves, powdered Italian type cheese, lemon (and lime) rind, walnuts, pine nuts, olive oil to taste, just look at the pictures to get some idea of amounts – I forgot to measure anything!

Firstly harvest the rocket (nettle, ramson leaves – you can include flower heads with wild garlic) and give them a wash. Then go through and take out the heavy stems and anything else you might have picked by mistake. You should end up with a nice pile of fresh greens. Nibble a bit while you chop it up ready for a liquidiser.

Then put all the other ingredients in a pile, except for the oil. If you want to be really ethnic you can make it all in a pestle and mortar, but I cheated with a liquidizer. Now the tricky bit is to feed the ingredients into the liquidiser while keeping the mix lubricated with the oil so it liquidises. When it ‘sticks’, don’t burn out the motor or shake the liquidiser! Simply take off the lid (waiting until the rotor has stopped), push aside the leafy stuff and pour in a bit more oil until the liquidiser works again.

Bottle the green mixture up in sterile glass jars and pour a bit more olive oil in the top to seal the air out. Rocket, also known as Arugula is full of excellent anti-oxidants so use some good quality virgin olive oil to preserve it. You can keep this jar sealed in a fridge for up to six months although it might start fermenting by then. It deep-freezes for longer storage – ice cube trays are ideal for this.

Green salad leaves contain the light converting machinery of nature. Rocket is high in phytonutrients, vitamins A (9%) and C (5%), beta carotene, fibre, folate (2%) and calcium (3%). Research in Saudi Arabia gives Rocket properties as an anti gastric ulcer agent.

All you need now is a plate of freshly made pasta, drop in a touch of butter (oil or margarine) and a few teaspoons of your home-made Rocket Pesto and stir onto a warmed plate. Sprinkle to taste with a grated cheese of your choice, a bit of chopped parsley and be generous with the black pepper. Hey Pesto, or Nesto if you are Italian.