I first learned about the Youth Farm Project from Dan Flerlage, a science teacher in Ithaca who founded the program. When I visited to teach the students a recipe using produce from their garden, Mr. Flerlage reminded me so much of my high school environmental studies teacher, Mr. Lucy. He was teaching his students about compassion, generosity and empathy in the simplest ways: growing plants. All the while, he made them laugh and feel comfortable, as if he were one of them. Does everyone have a Mr. Ferlage or Mr. Lucy in their life? I hope so.
When I arrived at the barn, it was humming with high school students. Some were stripping freshly picked red currants from their stems to make the Red Currant and Jalapeño Jam for which they’ve become known. Another group was hauling in bushels of rainbow chard and summer squash, still glistening with dew, and bundles of fresh herbs that we would use in our class.
I knew high school kids might be picky, so I chose a recipe that combined two popular foods for all ages: pasta and pesto. In reality it’s a simple, summer salad is disguised as a pasta dish by shaving flat vegetable noodles from the summer squash that resemble the Italian pappardelle. The pesto is just one way to dress it up, but you can also try bolognese sauce, simple marinara or other sauces and vegetable additions.
With pesto, we have the same opportunity to play. Basil, pine nuts and parmesan are the standard ingredients, but the basil can be replaced by any combination of greens: kale and parsley, arugula, or in this case, mint and chard. Pine nuts are always grossly over-priced, so I like to substitute them with toasted sunflower seeds or almonds – but any nut or seed will do! The combinations are endless. Making pesto is an incredible way of putting up the harvest for the winter so that you have fresh-tasting pasta sauce, bread dips and soup seasonings in the barren months (see recipe for freezing and storage).
- 4 large summer squash
- 4 cups coarsely chopped, packed chard leaves
- 2 cups loosely packed mint leaves
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (optional)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup + 3 tablespoons toasted sunflower seeds
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1.5 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Lay your summer squash on a sturdy work surface tilting it up at an angle.
- Using a vegetable peeler, slice down the summer squash, creating ribbons, rotating until you've used as much of the squash as you can. (Save remaining pieces for dipping in extra pesto.)
- Add the ribbons to a colander and let sit in a sink or over a plate while you prepare the pesto. Some of the excess water in the summer squash will drain.
- Combine the chard leaves, mint leaves, half of the olive oil, sunflower seeds, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a blender and pulse a few times to combine the ingredients. Remove the lid and use a spatula to scrape the pesto back down into the bowl.
- Replace the lid and turn the blender on, whizzing the pesto while slowing drizzling the remaining cup of olive oil until blended into a thick, smooth consistency.
- Transfer the summer squash ribbons to a serving bowl and toss with the pesto. Serve immediately or chill and serve cold.
- Store leftovers in a lidded container for up to 24 hours.
- How to Freeze (Any) Pesto:
- Transfer pesto to an ice cube tray and freeze. Once frozen, transfer pesto cubes to a ziplock bag and freeze for up to 1 year, defrosting a cube at a time as needed. F