Summer has certainly taken its own sweet time getting to the Pacific Northwest. I know I shouldn’t have been complaining. While the rest of the country has been sizzling under cloudless skies, we had been waking up to misty mornings that rarely turned into days hotter than 70 degrees. Inevitably, this has meant that my basil plants, that longed for sultry summer days as much as I did, had entered a holding pattern ever since I planted them. My oregano bush, on the other hand, has loved the warmish winter we just had, followed by the coolish summer we had been having and has gone from an oregano grove to a full-fledged forest, right underneath my plum tree. All this suddenly changed about 2 weeks ago, when summer finally arrived in Portland, and things started heating up fast. With tomatoes a-ripening, and beans a-growing, I had just about forgotten about my oregano plant, which is now hidden beneath the nodding heads of sunny day lilies. But as I was pruning bushes in the garden the other day, I noticed that the oregano was just about to start flowering and was badly in need of a haircut. Initially, my plan was to dry the oregano leaves for use later in the year, but being too lazy to actually do that, I thought I’d put the harvest to good use in an oregano pesto.
While traditionally made with basil, pesto can of course be adapted for a variety of herbs, including oregano, parsley, and cilantro. However, after having made oregano pesto several times, I think that all the non-basil pestos, except cilantro, taste best when at least a few basil leaves are tossed into the mix. Purists would argue that a true pesto must be crushed in a mortar and pestle to get the right consistency, but I generally use a coffee grinder for my homemade pesto, with great results.
I call this version of pesto, using oregano as the main herb, Poor Man’s Pesto, since basil can be quite expensive when store-bought. I guess to truly qualify as a poor man’s pesto, one should use walnuts instead of pine nuts, but I greatly prefer pine nuts in my pesto – they are milder and less prone to rancidity than walnuts. So, I guess this is really more of a Middle-class Pesto than a true Poor Man’s Pesto, but it can be adapted up or down, depending on your tastes.
It goes great on grilled bread, as a sauce for pasta. It can also be mixed in equal parts with mayonnaise for a wonderfully flavorful aioli dipping sauce, which goes great with fries.
1.5 C oregano leaves
¼ c basil leaves
½ C pignolis or pine nuts
½ C extra-virgin olive oil, first cold-pressed
Juice of half a lemon
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
½ C grated parmesan
Grind together all ingredients to a coarse paste
Spoon into a jar and top with a little more olive oil to prevent oxidation during storage
Keep refrigerated up to 3 weeks