Last August, Loren and I drove the Ring Road exploring the wonders of Iceland for 9 days. We enjoyed amazing food (mostly food we cooked on a single burner camping stove at campgrounds and stops along the way) and gazed upon some of the most spectacular features of planet earth.
The food part was particularly memorable, because I had zero issues eating the baked goods we found at an amazing bakery called Brauð & Co in Reykjavik. Zero stomach cramps or digestive issues, zero discomfort. I’m guessing it has something to do with the strain of wheat they use or a nice, slow leavening … all I know is that we couldn’t get enough of this place for the short two days we spent in Reykjavik before hitting the road. And I certainly enjoyed my consequence-free glutinous vacation.
Brauð & Co: Baked Goods and Pesto from Heaven
This bakery was truly a thing to behold: a tiny room that could hold no more than 7 or 8 customers, with 4 bakers and two cashiers behind the counter — and a line down the block. You could smell this place from a block away, following your nose to the long line of Icelanders patiently awaiting baked goods from heaven.
They had staggeringly delicious, warm loaves of sourdough bread and the most incredible house-made pesto I’d ever tasted. I have never experienced pesto like this anywhere else, and I LOVED it. On our way to pick up our camper van and hit the Ring Road, we stopped and grabbed a fresh loaf of bread and a container of pesto, so we wouldn’t be without on our road trip. We made some pretty amazing sandwiches using those two ingredients.
Icelandic Pesto Mission: The Translation
As I slowly grew more and more obsessed with this unfamiliar pesto, I decided that I needed to have the option of eating it forever. To do that, I’d have to find out what was in it. I took a picture of the label (all in Icelandic) and made plans to sit with Google Translate once I was stateside and figure out exactly how to replicate it at home. Then I had the chance to ask a couple of Icelandic natives to translate it for me. I wrote down their translations and deleted the picture.
Then I lost the piece of paper. That’s right. TRAGEDY.
That being said, I do remember a few key ingredients from the translation, so I used those as my jumping of point and combined them with the circumstances of my refrigerator and cupboard to bring you today’s recipe.
The ingredients that I know overlap between my version and theirs are: arugula (which they called rocket), sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, and sunflower seeds. Everything else is a guess. And I’d say I made a pretty darn good approximation of what this stuff was all about. I’d love to have a side-by-side comparison, so if anyone is planning a trip to Iceland soon, please stop by Brauð and get yourself some pesto. I’d love to know how mine measures up. And also get a loaf of bread and a cinnamon roll. And then mail them to me. Thanks.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say more about our amazing trip in this flashback post — after all, flashing back is all about reliving the glory of a wonderful experience.
Highlights (in no particular order):
- We experienced some of the most majestic natural hot springs on earth, including a hot river. Almost the entire country is geothermally active, and there are areas where water and steam just pour out of the earth. It’s magical.
- I had my first experience using cramp-ons when we hiked the Svínafellsjökull glacier.
- We saw enough waterfalls and rainbows to satisfy the imagination of every child with magic in her heart.
- We did a spontaneous beach clean up while waiting for a cave tour in Snaefellsbaer.
- We got a unique view of Kirkjufell by hopping a fence and taking an unofficial waterfall tour into the mountains at Snæfellsnes.
- We picked wild blueberries with the aid of two locals stocking up for winter (literally filling three giant buckets) at the beginning and end of a beautiful hike that required no trail to find our way.
- I learned how to drive a stick shift (but not really in a city, and definitely not to parallel park).
- A tour guide in Reykjavik told us that we were too late to see the puffins, but in fact, we arrived at Black Beach just in time to see pretty much every puffin on earth preparing to leave for the winter. (They were too high up for a good photo without a better camera.)
You Should Go to Iceland!
All of this, and we barely made it halfway around the country before having to turn back. Iceland is absolutely magnificent (and very tourist-friendly), and there are a lot of ways to stop through if you’re planning a trip with a European destination. We will definitely go back there in the not too distant future. It was just stunningly beautiful — so much so that it was difficult to take it all in.
So with that, here’s the Icelandic pesto recipe — I recommend using it however you’d use regular pesto, including scrambling into eggs, dipping bread or crackers, stirring into veggies, pasta, or veggie pasta, and even cooking with shrimp or chicken.
- 3 cups raw baby arugula
- 1/4 cup blanched carrot tops
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup cashew pieces
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes
- zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1/2 cup garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil (split into 1/4 cups) OR 1 clove garlic + EVOO
- Place all ingredients (except 1/4 cup EVOO) in food processor and process until a choppy but incorporated mix is achieved. You can decide how chunky you want it to be.
- Once ingredients are mixed to your liking, stir in remaining 1/4 cup of EVOO.
- And you're ready to serve!