Although it's raining and not even 60 degrees here right now, it has largely been beautiful so far this early summer. We are not very skilled gardeners, but we are determined to do better this year, and to this end we have dug out an additional bed in our front yard, the sunniest part of our lot. With new soil, free plants from neighbors and relatives, and enthusiastic watering, this small patch is exploding beautifully. We have a lot of spinach, several beet plants (using both of those to make a regular side dish of sauteed greens with pinenuts and garlic), several artichoke plants, peas twining over anything else, spring onions, herbs, and eight or so tomato plants.
We have basil in the ground, but it's nowhere near being ready to harvest in significant quantities (and saving it from the snails and slugs is a constant battle here), so we picked some up at the farmer's market last weekend and made this amazingly flavorful and pungent pesto, that we try to make in huge quantities every year. Two bunches were about enough for two batches. Normally, we'll make two or three batches at a time and freeze at least one of them, but this time we've been eating it over several days. To freeze, spoon into an icecube tray you reserve for such uses, pour a little olive oil on top, and then transfer to a freezer bags or boxes when solid.
Serving ideas: great as is, on pasta or vegetables. We like to brush a thick layer on salmon then bake or barbecue. This week, we've been enjoying it mixed half and half with ricotta, then tossed with spaghetti. I think that mellows the flavor out a little for kids and it adds a little more nutrition (and helps your pesto last a little longer). Both my girls love this-Mary just ate two servings for lunch, and the baby will eat as much as we feed her. Cooks Illustrated suggests mixing a batch of this with 1/4 cup pasta cooking water until smooth, then tossing with a pound of cooked spaghetti.
Recipe a slight modification from the version in Cooks' Illustrated: The New Best Recipe. Toasting the nuts beforehand is essential. We added parsley for the first time with this batch and it was great-added a nice, fresh taste. We also did half walnuts and half pinenuts, and they were good, though I'd suggest toasting them separately as the pinenuts cook much faster.
*1/4 cu pine nutes, walnuts, or almonds
*3 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
*2 packed cups of fresh basil leaves
*2 TBS fresh parsley leaves (optional)
*6 TBS olive oil (1/4 cup+ 2 TBS)
*1 tsp salt
-Toast the nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring-PutFREQUENTLY, 4-5 minutes or until golden and fragrant. Transfer to a small bowl.
-Toast garlic in empty skillet until fragrant slightly colored, about 7 minutes. Cool, then peel.
-Place basil and parsley in a heavy duty ziploc bag and bang on them with a rolling pin or heavy small skillet until the leaves are all dark and bruised. If you happen to have a mortar and pestle, use that by all means.
-Place all ingredients in a food processor. Whirl, scraping as necessary, until smooth.
*1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan