Pesto needs no introduction. I bet almost everyone reading this has made one type or another. There are so many variations, based on anything from herbs (basil, cilantro, parsley, sage), greens (kale, arugula), mushrooms, tomatoes, olives, and roasted red peppers. This is my Southern take on the classic by using collard greens and pecans.
There are a couple tips for making a great pesto: first, roast the nuts and second, toast most of the garlic. Roasting the nuts brings out the flavor while toasting the garlic mellows the flavor so it doesn’t take over the dish (I do add a little raw garlic at the end, however).
Collard Greens & Pecan Pesto
makes enough for 1 pound pasta
Recipe note: 1) you can use the traditional Parmesan here but I liked mixing it up a bit by using cheddar; 2) use a traditional skillet (cast iron or aluminum) as opposed to a non-stick skillet to toast garlic as non-stick skillets can release harmful chemicals when heated without fat in the pan; 3) reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin out the pesto if you plan on tossing it with pasta.
- 1 cup (just under 4 ounces) pecan pieces
- 5 large garlic cloves, unpeeled plus 1 small clove, minced
- 4-1/2 ounces collard greens, stemmed and roughly chopped (about 2-1/2 cups)
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2-1/2 ounces extra aged cheddar, shredded on large holes of box grater (about 3/4 cup) (see recipe note)
- Salt to taste (I used 1/2 teaspoon)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste (I used 5 to 10 grinds)
- Apple cider vinegar to taste (I used 1-1/2 teaspoons)
- 1 pound dry pasta of choice (fusilli, bowtie, shells)
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 5-8 minutes or until fragrant. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
- Heat unpeeled garlic cloves in a small skillet (see recipe note) over medium heat, turning every few minutes, until soft and skin is starting to darken and pull away. Set aside. Once cool enough to handle, remove skins and mince.
- Add nuts, garlic, greens and oil to a large food processor and pulse until nuts and greens are broken down but still have a little texture. Transfer to a bowl and mix in cheese and raw garlic. Taste and add salt, pepper and vinegar as needed. Toss with pasta of choice and reserved cooking water (see recipe note), adding a little at a time until desired consistency is reached.