I've been on a serious sorrel kick this farmers' market season. I first tasted it last year from Chuck Armitage of Lettuce Alone. Earlier in the spring, I started seeing it at the Easton Farmers' Market, from Pheasant Hill Farms, from the very skilled DeVaults. I also encountered it a couple weeks ago when I started to help Dave Joachim test recipes for Marc Vetri's Mastering Pasta. Once you start paying attention to something new in your field of vision, you encounter it everywhere. But that's a different story, sort of....
If you have never sampled sorrel, I encourage you to grab it the next time you encounter it. Sorrel is redolent of lemon, and has a bring, sharp taste. You can add a handful to a salad as an accent green, with eggs along with some goat cheese. I've already eaten it raw in salad. When sauteed into a pasta dish, I learned that even medium-low heat makes it brown quickly (George DeVault confirmed this); it's mostly an aesthetic concern rather than an issue of taste. Next time, I'll turn off the heat altogether, which I typically do with other greens I add to dishes at the last minute. An oversight on a busy weeknight in the kitchen.
So what to do with a surplus of sorrel? Well, after Dave and I munched on the incredibly zesty stems, brainstorming fun uses for them, I decided it was time for pesto. So I took the stems from two big bunches of sorrel, about 3-4 cups worth of leaves, and a mess of other pesto fixings and got to work. And I had a rather large handful of garlic scapes in my fridge, so instead of the traditional garlic, I put those in, too.
Two bunches of sorrel, measuring about 3-4 cups altogether, with stems removed and reserved
4-6 garlic scapes, or more if you like a pungent pesto
2 pinches of kosher salt
1/3 cup sunflower seeds (or pine nuts or walnuts; the taste will change accordingly)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice and zest of one lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (you want something fruity and assertive here)
12-16 ounces penne or other pasta, if you're ready for dinner
1/2 to 1 cup pasta water, reserved
1. Bring a well-salted pot of water to boil over high heat. While that's happening....
2. Combine the sorrel through lemon juice and zest in the bowl of a food processor and turn it on. While that's working, slowly add the olive oil through the top chute. Stop the machine once you have reached your desired consistency. Pesto is really subjective. With pasta dishes, I like to leave mine a little chunky because you're going to add pasta water, which will thin it out a bit.
3. Just before the pasta's cooked, scoop out about a cup of the cooking water and set aside. Drain pasta. Add about 1/2 cup of pesto to the hot stockpot, and add back in the water and the pesto. Stir to combine. Add more freshly grated Parm if you want it. Don't forget lots of freshly ground salt and pepper, either.
I like to freeze any leftover pesto and play a trick on nature by pulling out frozen pesto in the middle of winter. You can use ice cube trays but I have been using the plastic trays that came with our baby food maker years ago. They're just like ice cube trays, except they come with lids, which helps reduce freezer burn and I believe they are BPA-free.
If you make this, let's hear about it. You may not be able to get sorrel again until the fall, but when you see it, grab it. You won't regret it.