Flower Power: Nasturtium Brings Back Memories and Recipes

By Calla Corner   |   June 17, 2021

It’s still amazing to me how photos posted on Instagram can bring unexpected responses. Instantly! It happily happened to me last May and my green, yellow, orange, and red creative juices started flowing.

I had just posted a photo of the nasturtium pesto I’d made from the flowers and leaves in my garden. I was nodding to exigencies of COVID — self-quarantining, fear of food shopping, and the constant barrage of advice for oldies like me to not mix or mingle. I foraged for food, foliage with flavor and fun right in my own backyard.

Within minutes, Caroline, my flower girl at my wedding in Pully, Switzerland, in May 1972 commented, “Do you remember that you and Maman would take me foraging in the meadows above Lausanne for wild nasturtiums for salads?”

We hadn’t been in touch for a decade.

“Maman” was Margaret, my closest friend with whom I spent many memorable, mostly marvelous moments during the 16 years I lived in Switzerland. I write “mostly,” as I’m referring to a notorious escapade when we ran a fowl (sic) of Swiss custom guards for not declaring the chickens we’d bought at an Italian market, which we visited after loading up on shoes. We had gone across the border to buy stylish, cheap shoes, stopping at a market before returning home. Italian fowl had contracted a virus and we had unwittingly bought two birds for dinner.

In May and June, nasturtiums are in full season here in central California. There are many places across the country where they are soon to be in full bloom, too. So, it’s time to harvest the orange/red/yellow flowers and leaves of this versatile (80 species) reseeding annual, for pesto, salads, hors d’oeuvres or “dolmades” (stuffed leaves) and brownies.

Nasturtium, Beet, and Potato Salad

10 nasturtium blossoms
10 small nasturtium leaves
2 medium cooked and peeled beets
6 new or 8 fingerling potatoes, steamed until just tender
8 oz. baby Bibb, red leaf, baby arugula salad leaves
4 oz. baby spinach leaves
A good vinaigrette sauce

Wash carefully all leaves. Steam beets and potatoes until just tender. Arrange in salad bowl, topping with a few nasturtium flowers. Serves six.

Nasturtium Pesto

Fill a blender with 2 cups cold-pressed virgin olive oil; add 20-30 nasturtium leaves and flowers (enough to fill up half the oil); one cup good, grated parmesan; 1/2 cup slivered almonds. Blend well and serve over angel hair pasta, topped with small, sautéed mushrooms. The nasturtiums provide the bite that ground pepper would. Serves 4-6.

More Like Mole Nasturtium Brownies

1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup sifted flour
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
10 small nasturtium leaves

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-by-9 baking pan with parchment paper. In a big bowl combine melted butter, brown sugar, and salt. Beat in the egg and vanilla extract and torn nasturtium leaves. Add flour and cocoa powder and stir until blended. Fold in chocolate chips. Pour batter into pan in one layer. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes. The brownies are very chewy, and the nasturtiums add an unexpected zip.

Stuffed Nasturtium Leaves

10 large nasturtiums leaves, washed and dried
8 oz. of ground pork or chicken
1 finely chopped onion
1 finely chopped garlic clove
1 small can tomato paste
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup chopped tomato sauce

Preheat oven to 350 F.

For filling: Assemble all ingredients in a bowl. Place a small amount in the center of each leaf. Roll up and tuck in sides. Arrange in an oblong baking dish, just big enough to fit all rolls. Spread chopped tomato sauce over rolls. Bake for 45 minutes. The rolls can be served hot over rice as an entrée or cold as hors d’oeuvres, if you have used smaller leaves.


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