I grew a new herb on a whim last year—lemon balm. Lemons had been scarce in our area and virtually absent in organic form, which is always my first choice. I had even needed to make my Lemon Ginger Honey Tea with lime. Yes, it was a tough year for lemon lovers.
But what if I could produce a nice lemon flavor from another (natural) source? At an affordable price of course. It all led to Lemon Balm Pesto.
I went to the garden center last year and picked up a Lemon Balm plant that I enjoyed throughout the season. But despite plans, I never did get around to replanting this year. What I didn’t realize, however, was that lemon balm is a perennial. And it’s related to mint which means this year I have a giant lemon balm plant. Without doing anything.
Lemon balm has a sweet, herbal, lemony taste and aroma and some people believe it has medicinal properties. Claims have been made that it can help sooth indigestion, heal cold sores, ease anxiety and promote good sleep (disclaimer: this content is not meant to serve as medical advice). And all I was looking for was lemon flavor!
Just beware that lemon balm’s relation to mint means it may have some tendency to be spread invasively in an unchecked garden. So if you plant it, you’ll want to keep an eye on it. But it also means you may get to harvest the heck out of it. Which is how I decided to try a lemon balm pesto.
I have made pesto with many different “greens” besides the traditional basil. Arugula pesto is delicious and really handy if you hit a salad overload. Cilantro pesto is an absolute favorite. The lemon overtones in this seemed to call out for adding shrimp, so I ignored the old Italian adage about not mixing seafood pasta with cheese and went ahead.
The recipe is a little high in calories and fat, but studies regularly point to significant health benefits from olive oil. One even showed that a High-Fat Mediterranean diet does not lead to weight gain! But if you want to reduce fat and/or calories you can always substitute an additional ¼ cup wine for ¼ cup of the olive oil.
- 12 ounces of shrimp, peeled
- 8 oz whole wheat pasta
- 2 cups of lemon balm leaves, lightly packed (4-5 longer stems)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine
- 4 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup walnuts, pinenuts or other nut of your choice
- ½ t salt (or to taste)
- 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup)
- Cook pasta according to package directions and drain when done.
- While pasta is cooking, place pesto ingredients except Parmesan in a blender or food processor. Process until well combined.
- Heat pesto and peeled shrimp in a small saucepan stirring occasionally, until shrimp are cooked through. Stir in grated Parmesan.
- Combine pasta and pesto. Serve immediately
To use as a dip or spread, eliminate the wine and skip the shrimp.
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