Presto! I Mean, Pesto.

By: Elizabeth Webber Akre

If you enjoy growing plants, then you know how rewarding herbs can be. They grow fast and are easy to care for. Of all the culinary herbs, basil is probably the best known and can easily be crowned King. It’s ridiculously easy to grow, it’s packed to the gills with flavor and everyone likes it. You don’t really need a thumb of any shade of green to grow it. All you need to know is how to cut it back properly so that it will continue to produce all summer.

Fresh basilWe have a small kitchen garden this year. We have a beefsteak tomato, an heirloom “Mr. Stripey” tomato, cucumbers, zucchini, poblanos, jalapenos, habeneros, green beans, kale, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and of course, the basil. We both go out at least once a day to scrutinize the garden to see what has changed since our last inspection. About a week ago, my husband came in and asked me about cutting the basil. I was like, “yeah, yeah, I’ll go get some.” He kept on. He kept saying things like “Well, you better cut it before it goes to waste,” and “I think those leaves look pretty big; don’t want them to go to waste,” and “Don’t you think we should make pesto or something so that basil doesn’t go bad?” Finally, I turned to him and asked, “Why are you obsessing about the basil all of a sudden?”

Fresh BasilYou know how crazy it is that you can live with someone for (going on) 20 years and still learn something new about him? He proceeded to tell me that he’d never had fresh pesto until he met me. He loves it and just can’t bear the thought of the basil being right there in the yard and not in the form of yummy pesto (or anything else for that matter). Years ago, I taught him that when I have a good crop of basil, I make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays so that when summer is gone, I still have fresh tasting basil to add to any dishes I want in the doldrums of winter. Apparently, it registered and he hasn’t forgotten it.

So, I went outside, cut the basil and whipped up a small batch of pesto for him.  For Fresh Pestothose of you who are unfamiliar with making it yourself, let me assure you that it is the easiest concoction ever invented. You probably always have parmesan in your fridge, right? Garlic and olive oil should be in every house all the time. I keep pine nuts in the freezer. So, when you cut your basil, you just toss all these ingredients into the food processor, give it a couple of spins and there you go: pesto. It couldn’t be faster or easier.

So what can you do with it? The first and most obvious is to use it as a pasta sauce.  It’s great mixed into mayo for sandwiches or pasta salad. If you freeze into ice cubes, you can pop a cube into pasta sauce or minestrone to add that fresh basil flavor. It’s also wonderful to add dollops of pesto to a pizza. Or, make a simple béchamel sauce with pesto and serve with grilled tuna, salmon or gnocchi. Mix into some softened butter to serve over grilled steak or with fresh, crusty bread. I guess you’re getting my drift that you can do just about anything with pesto. It is the quintessential taste of summer, in my opinion. Herbal, fresh, light and invigorating. And that’s just pesto. Don’t forget Thai food, Caprese salads, drying basil for later use…

Since we’re moving into July, it may be difficult to find plants at Lowe’s or wherever you usually buy your annuals. But, don’t despair. A lot of grocery stores actually have potted basil plants in the produce section. It’s also super easy to grow from seed.  You could start seeds in peat pots and then just transfer to the garden or to a container on your patio. And, with our growing season like it is, you could have basil well into October.

mangiare bere e divertirsi!

Elizabeth writes “Gastronomy (by a Wanna-Be Chef).”  Please read, comment and be merry! You can also follow on Facebook & Twitter.