Turnip Green Pesto with Rotini, Dried Tomatoes and Fresh Pea Pods

The last-minute trip to Wisconsin was totally worth it! The farm we found online is pretty much everything we’re looking for. It sits on 13 acres, almost all tillable. There are fruit trees, berry bushes and grapevines already planted all around the house. The old 1910 farmhouse is so charming, and it looks like it only needs some minor repairs (fingers crossed that the inspection goes smoothly and doesn’t reveal any unseen problems). There are so many outbuildings I’m not even sure what we would do with all of them, including a big greenhouse with an attached office/farm store, a large barn, a garage, a workshop, and a chicken house. Best of all, because we’re looking at a smaller acreage, it’s all well within our budget. Needless to say, we put in an offer right away!

We came back to West Virginia exhausted, only to find that we barely recognized our yard.  Before we left there were cicadas hatching everywhere, and now the sound of their calls fills the air, making it hard to think. The heat of summer has already begun, and the beating  sun is somehow made even hotter by the pulsing cacophony of the cicadas. Is this really the same place we left just last week?

I’ve never lived within the range of the 17-year cicada during a hatch year before, and I’m astounded by how dense they are. At our house there are cicadas on every branch of every tree, and I’m told that in some places they can blanket the ground. I speculated that there must be a boom in bird numbers on cicada hatch years because of all the available food, but Frank tells me I’m wrong. He read that birds actually have a hard time breeding because they can’t hear well enough above the noise to find one another! Birds rely heavily on auditory cues and suffer when their sense of hearing is cut off by noise from traffic, or in this case a sudden influx of insects. At least they’re compensated for their trouble by some easy meals. I’m slightly embarrassed that I’m not brave enough to take advantage of all this free protein and try cooking some cicadas up myself. I’m told they’re delicious and it makes perfect sense; we eat plenty of other arthropods without even blinking (if you think about it, shrimp, lobster and crawfish aren’t so different from insects), but somehow I just can’t bring myself to do it.

Other signs of early summer have come to our garden. The snap peas already reach over our heads and are bearing their first pods and the greens are knee-high. I wanted to cook something that would highlight the fresh snap of the pea pods and use up some of the turnip greens that are taking over the garden. We grow both shelling peas and snap peas, and devote half of the garden fence to each. I love to sit on a warm spring evening and leisurely shuck peas, but I’m grateful for the convenience of the insnap peas when I don’t have a lot of time. The variety we grow is called Sugar Ann, and it’s so crisp and candy-sweet that half of them end up in my mouth instead of the picking basket.

This Turnip Green Pesto recipe makes good use of the abundant greens that are available this time of year. You could easily substitute other greens such as collards or chard, but the ingredients I used here deal well with the strong flavor of turnip greens. The walnuts and lemon juice tone down the bitterness of the turnip greens and make the pesto nutty, rich and tangy.  A little touch of honey helps to mask any remaining bitterness.

When you prepare the greens, you’ll want to remove the thick portion of the stems so there aren’t long fibers in your pesto. I once made a swiss chard pesto with so many stem fibers that Frank had to spend  at least 5 minutes unwrapping them from the blade of my food processer! The easiest way to remove the stems is to fold each leaf in half, grasp the leafy portion close to the stem with one hand, and use your other hand to tear out the stem. stemming greens

This pesto is so versatile and would be fantastic served with chicken, as a topping for pizza, or with a grain like millet or quinoa. I chose to serve it with organic whole wheat rotini. This time of year I’m always clearing out my winter pantry, so this was my opportunity to use up the last of the dried tomatoes from last summer. They add a nice tang and a splash of color to the plate. Unlike the sundried tomatoes available in the store, my dried tomatoes are too tough to chew without reconstituting, so in this recipe I soak them in boiling water. I saved my tomato water and used it in my pesto to get the most out of the tomato flavor, but you can use plain water just as well if your pesto needs a little thinning out. You can make a double batch of pesto and keep the extra in the fridge for a few days, or freeze in ice cube trays to use later.

Turnip Green Pesto with Rotini, Dried Tomatoes and Fresh Pea Pods

Turnip Green Pesto

  • 1 bunch of turnip greens (about 6 ounces)
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2-4 tablespoons water (as needed to thin pesto)


  1. Wash turnip greens and remove stems. Place the greens in a steamer basket over 1/2 inch boiling water and cover. Steam for 2-3 minutes until wilted.
  2. Put all ingredients together in a food processer and process several minutes until very smooth, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time as necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Pesto Rotini, Dried Tomatoes and Fresh Pea Pods

  • 2 cups fresh pea pods
  • 1 cup dried tomato slices (or fresh tomato, chopped)
  • 8 ounces rotini pasta
  • Turnip Green Pesto (see above)
  • high-quality balsamic vinegar (optional)
  • freshly grated parmesan cheese (optional)


  1. Wash pea pods, trim ends and cut each pod in half. Steam over boiling water for 1-2 minutes until shiny and slightly darkened.
  2. Place dried tomatoes in a heat-safe container and add boiling water until just covered. Allow to soak at least 2 minutes until tender, then drain.
  3. Combine all ingredients and serve. If desired, serve with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese on each plate.

One Comment Add yours

  1. amanda jane says:

    I’m also bummed the birds can’t hear! Congrats on the farm find. It sounds perfect!


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