It’s still amazing to me how Instagram photos can bring such unexpected responses. And instantly! It happily happened to me last May and my creative juices — green, yellow, orange — started flowing.

I had just posted a photo of the nasturtium pesto I’d made from the flowers and leaves in a nod to the exigencies of Covid-19: self-quarantining, fear of food shopping and the constant barrage of advice for oldies like me to not mix or mingle. I was going to forage for food, fool about with flavor and fun.

Within minutes, Caroline, the flower girl...

It’s still amazing to me how Instagram photos can bring such unexpected responses. And instantly! It happily happened to me last May and my creative juices — green, yellow, orange — started flowing.

I had just posted a photo of the nasturtium pesto I’d made from the flowers and leaves in a nod to the exigencies of Covid-19: self-quarantining, fear of food shopping and the constant barrage of advice for oldies like me to not mix or mingle. I was going to forage for food, fool about with flavor and fun.

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

There are eighty different species of nasturtium: orange, red and yellow flowers, all with jade-green leaves. I have luscious memories of gathering baskets full of edible sunshine with my girls, Annabelle and Lucy, and Caroline and Maman.

Maman was Margaret, my closest friend, with whom I spent many memorable, mostly marvelous moments during the sixteen years I lived in Switzerland. I write “mostly” because there was a notorious escapade when we ran afoul of Swiss customs guards for not declaring the chickens we’d bought at an Italian market. We had gone across the border to buy cheaper, more stylish shoes (the Swiss make wonderful watches, cheeses and chocolates, but not shoes), stopping at a market before returning home. Unaware that Italian fowl had contracted a virus, we had bought two birds for dinner. We had to revise the menu: the birds were confiscated.

By the middle of June, nasturtiums are finished here in central California. But there are many places where they are just beginning to bloom. So, if you, too, have these wild and wonderful gifts of nature (or spot them by the side of the road or in meadows), gather up blossoms and leaves for pesto, salads, brownies and stuffed leaves.

RECIPES

Nasturtium Pesto

Fill a blender with 2 cups cold-pressed virgin olive oil; add 20-30 washed nasturtium leaves and flowers (enough to fill up half the oil), one cup good, grated Parmesan, and a ½ cup slivered almonds. Blend well and serve over angel-hair pasta. Top with small, sautéed mushrooms. The nasturtiums provide the bite that ground pepper would.

Serves 4-6.

Nasturtium, Beet and Potato Salad

10 nasturtium blossoms

10 small nasturtium leaves

2 medium beets

6 new or 8 fingerling potatoes

8 oz baby Bibb, red leaf, or baby arugula salad leaves

4 oz baby spinach leaves

A good vinaigrette

Wash all leaves and blossoms carefully. Steam beets and potatoes until just tender. Arrange in salad bowl, topping with a few nasturtium flowers. Serve with a baguette and goat cheese. Luncheon for six.

More-Like-Mole Nasturtium Brownies

½ cup (1 stick) melted butter

½ cup packed brown sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup sifted flour

⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

½ cup semisweet chocolate chips 10 small nasturtium leaves

Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a 9”x 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 in the batter. 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

8 large nasturtium leaves, washed and dried

8 oz ground pork or chicken

1 finely chopped onion

1 finely chopped garlic clove

1 small can tomato paste

½ tsp salt

½ tsp ground nutmeg

1 cup smooth tomato sauce

Set clean leaves aside; assemble all other ingredients except tomato sauce in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Place a small amount in the center of each leaf. Roll up and tuck in sides. Arrange in a lightly oiled oblong baking dish, just big enough to fit all rolls. Spread 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 (with toothpicks), if you have used smaller leaves.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2022 World edition.