Sunflower petals make this golden pesto shine. What a color! Rich, brilliant yellow, deep and warm as summer itself. The petals have a flavor that’s similar to a sunflower sprout, bright and almost nutty, but with a hint of floral bitterness that the sprouts lack. The salt and oil, nuts and lemon, balance out the flavor, making a sauce or dip that is just as much fun to look at as it is to eat. We like to spread it on crostini or feature it on a cheese plate that includes fresh vegetables. Lovely on pasta, as well, when thinned a bit with added oil. Consider it tossed with pasta, cherry tomatoes, and a few purple basil leaves. We got the original recipe from the The Occidental Arts and Ecology Center Cookbook: Fresh-from-the-Garden Recipes for Gatherings Large and Small but preferred it with a bit more lemon zip than the original recipe. As always, use your taste buds to refine the recipes here as you see fit.
This time of year, in late summer, the sunflower petals are getting ready to drop after their work of brightly attracting pollinators is done. If you want to harvest sunflower seeds from the same plants, pluck off the petals out in the garden, and leave the seedheads attached to the plants. The variety we used were mainly ornamental sunflowers, with many heads per stem, so we picked the whole flower.
Pluck the sunflower petals from the stems, and lightly press them into a measuring cup. We used about 40 small sunflower heads to get these many petals, but larger flowers are common and will have more petals per head. If you don’t have quite this many petals, don’t fret! Just add a bit more oil, and make more of a drizzling sauce, as opposed to this thick pesto.
Toast the sunflower seeds in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop until they are very lightly browned.
Combine the sunflower seeds and salt in a mortar and pestle or food processor, and work it to a rustic paste.
Add the petals, lemon juice and zest, and olive oil, and process until the desired consistency is reached.
Serve immediately on crostini or mixed into pasta or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days.
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