This morning I was at my mother’s place and she told me that the gardener was coming tomorrow to clear some of the garden beds so we could plant tomatoes and basil. “Not where the wild rocket is?” I asked anxiously. “Yes”, she replied, “it will all be gone tomorrow”. Now by wild rocket (rucola selvadiga in my Italian dialect), I mean it grew there of its own accord. It had been planted there some time ago but was all pulled up at the end of the season. However it emerged again in early spring amongst the weeds. They don’t call the variety “wild” for no reason!

After we had lunch, armed with a basket, I collected as much of it as I could, hoping that I would have enough to make rocket pesto. I weighed it when I arrived home and I had just over 100g – which was just what I needed. My mother was horrified that I might make pesto using rucola. But I told her that Jamie Oliver makes it, so it must be okay. She grudgingly agreed (she just loves the way Jamie cooks – even though he is not Italian, he learnt to cook from an Italian, the inimitable Gennaro Contaldo!). It makes a nice change from the basil pesto I usually make.

My rocket pesto is a bit different from Jamie’s version – I add a few almonds as well as walnuts, plus some freshly grated lemon zest just before serving it on spaghetti. It adds a citrus zing to the peppery green taste of the rocket in the pesto. It made a perfect light spring dinner tonight. I loved the fact that 5 hours ago the rocket was growing, wildly, and now it has become a beautiful pesto, which will last a couple of weeks in the fridge (if my husband does not eat it all!). I might even take some to my mother’s and see what she thinks of it. I think she will like it.

You could also serve it on bread, topped with some tomatoes and bocconcini cheese – though you will need to reduce the amount of olive oil you use. My favorite way to have rocket pesto is with spaghetti. I am so happy I got to the rocket before the gardener did!

Wild rocket pesto with spaghetti
serves 4
100g wild rocket, washed
50 g walnuts, roughly chopped
15g blanched almonds, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
50 g parmigiano (italian parmesan – I use Grana Padano) cheese, grated
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
lemon zest to serve
a few rocket leaves for garnish for each plate
400g spaghetti
Place the rocket in a blender, add a dash of olive oil and then whizz it a bit. Next add the garlic, then pulse for 10-20 seconds; next, add the nuts and pulse a few times depending on how coarse (or fine) you like the pesto. Keep the blender running and add the rest of the olive oil in a stream. You will need 1/2 cup if you are using the pesto on pasta – a bit less (maybe 1/3 cup) if you plan to use the pesto on bread. Add the parmigiano last, folding it through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the spaghetti according to the directions on the packet. When cooked, drain, keeping a bit of the cooking water (a few tablespoons) with the pasta. Stir through the pesto. Add a good serve of lemon zest to each plate of spaghetti and garnish with a few rocket leaves.

If you don’t use all of the rocket pesto, store it in a glass jar in the fridge, covering it with a layer of extra virgin olive oil.

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