Beetroot and Cobnut Pesto

This weekend saw September’s Invisible Food Walk and the beautiful autumnal day brought much seasonal foodie inspiration. I eyed up some crabapples for a chili infused jam, noted where the sloes are in Brixton, marvelled at the abundance of elderberries and sampled some amazing vegan food at the post walk picnic.

One of these dishes was a vegan pesto made with beetroot greens and cashew nuts. I was too busy stuffing my face with it to ask what the umami element was since it definitely wasn’t parmesan. Whatever it was it was delicious and I lost out on seconds to a couple of the kids who were very taken with the colour and the flavour…

So when I picked my first crop of beetroot from the garden the next day to accompany the grouse Mister North and I roasted, I made sure to keep the lovely young tender leaves, stems and teeny tiny baby beets that hadn’t really reached full potential. I planned to pick up some pine nuts next day and make a pesto with them when I remembered Mister North had picked up some fresh Kentish cobnuts at the Farmers’ Market earlier that day. Why not use these seasonal treats to make the pesto instead of the more traditional pine nuts?

While the grouse was roasting, we stripped the outer husks and then popped the cobnuts in the oven at 180°C for about 20 minutes to roast them lightly before shelling them. This was trickier than it sounds. The shells are quite tough and the nuts quite soft and buttery in texture so it was almost impossible to get them out intact. Obviously this wasn’t a problem for pesto, but might have been if you wanted to serve them as nibbles.

Once the cobnuts were shelled (using a cleaver, chopping board and metal skewer), I blitzed them in the food processor along with the chopped beetroot leaves and stems and some rapeseed oil to get a chopped but well bound texture. Olive oil would of course work beautifully here, but I had run out and had to improvise a bit, although the rapeseed oil made this an even more fantastically seasonal British dish! I then added in some grated parmesan and a good grinding of black pepper to finish. Feeling very domesticated I put some of this gorgeously vibrant pesto into a pot for Mister North to take home and the rest in the fridge for me.

We both ate the pesto the next day. He served his stirred through fresh pasta for dinner and I had mine on oatcakes with a sliver or two of Pexommier cheese for lunch and we both loved it. Sweet and earthy, it tasted deliciously fresh compared to traditional basil pesto and the light smooth texture of the cobnuts made it especially creamy and quite light. It needed some extra pepper to lift it completely, but this was otherwise a real seasonal delight!

There’s no excuse to waste any beetroot tops you might have around, and don’t worry if you can’t get cobnuts. Pine nuts or walnuts would be equally lovely. Think pink this week when you’re picking up veg from the garden or the farmers’ market and make this fab pesto for a quick and easy meal!

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