Garlicky Leaf, Stem & Core Pesto

Mar 24, 2021 | Healthy Living, Recipes

When you grow vegetables or shop at the farmer’s market, you get a lot of wonderful leaves and stems. These don’t need to go to the compost. There’s nutrition and flavor in the whole plant. You can use the parts of things you’d normally toss to make this delicious pesto from Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal.  As Adler writes,

“Greens must be bought whole. The balance of the universe dictates that one man’s head is another man’s tail. In Provence, warm baked Swiss chard tarts, studded with raisins, are made only with stems. There, Swiss chard leaves are cast-offs, sometimes used for bean and vegetable soups, more often fed to the chickens.

“Here, we sauté leaves of Swiss chard and throw their good stems away. More often we buy greens precut in bags, relinquishing their stems to the companies that hack greens up, only to buy them back in frozen tamales and canned minestrone soup. A more efficient approach is to buy and use both ingredients, since they come conveniently attached to each other.”

It also feels wonderful not to waste good things, not to add to the accumulation of trash. It feels good to make efficient use of what you buy. Save beet greens to sauté in this delicious recipe. Put aside the fresh stems of parsley and cilantro to add flavor to braises or nutrition to smoothies. As you core and stem your cauliflower, broccoli and hearty leafy greens, collect the cores and stems in a big bowl for this pesto. It’s wonderful on toast or over pasta with generous amounts of grated cheese. Or serve as a garnish for fish or roasted chicken.


4 to 5 cups of stems, leaves, and cores of any combination of cauliflower, broccoli, kale, collard greens, Swiss chard, cabbage, sliced or diced into half-inch pieces
3 cloves of garlic, or a little more
Half cup of olive oil
Half teaspoon of salt


In Adler’s words: “Put everything in a pot just big enough to hold it and add water to cover by half. Cook it at or below a simmer until anything you prod with a wooden spoon is smashable. Keep just enough water in the pot to make sure the bottom’s not burning, adding a little water as you need it. When everything is soft, purée it quickly in a blender or food processor, or simply smash it with a wooden spoon until you get tired, leaving moments of appealing, irregular texture.”

That’s it. You can reheat to serve, or enjoy at room temperature on warm toast. It’ll keep well for a few days. The flavors are delicious with grated parmesan or pecorino, and some freshly ground pepper.


Enter your email to sign up for Grappa Lane updates.

You have Successfully Subscribed!