Alex Rushmer shares a recipe for a brilliantly British take on pesto
By far the most productive vegetable bed we have in the garden is the one filled with sunflowers. Obviously I’ve always known the seeds are edible, but I’ve also been experimenting with other parts of the flower. The young flower heads, so reminiscent of artichoke, can (at a push) be braised or steamed before they open up, and I’m sure there is something to be done with the stems and leaves.
Maybe by next summer I will have figured it out. Far more pleasing, and far less effort, are the petals. They are mildly sweet and gentle and make a wonderfully colourful addition to the salad course at Vanderlyle. Used with toasted sunflower seeds, they can also be blitzed into a brilliantly British take on pesto.
Feel free to include additional flavours – roasted garlic and fresh soft herbs would be great before mixing through pasta, or it could even be stirred through sour cream to make a stunning dip.
• 65g sunflower seeds
• A pinch of salt, to taste
• The zest and juice from half a lemon
• 150ml rapeseed oil
• The petals from one large or two small sunflower heads
• Lightly toast the sunflower seeds in a dry frying pan – just to colour ever so slightly without scorching them. It should bring out the natural nuttiness of the seeds without adding any bitterness.
• Leave to cool for ten minutes, then add to a blender, food processor or pestle and mortar. Pulse, or pestle, enough to break them up but without turning them into a smooth paste.
• Add the salt, lemon zest and rapeseed oil and mix again to combine.
• Finally, add the sunflower petals and blend one final time to break them up, but not purée the sauce.
• Check the seasoning and add more salt or lemon if necessary.
• Serve immediately, or pour into jars and top with oil to preserve for at least a week.