The Joys of Summer: Simple Lunches

july 2009 011
There are few things I love more than leisurely weekend lunches eaten on our back patio, with good food and sweet surroundings. I don’t like to fuss in the kitchen for these meals, though, and in this season there’s no reason to. With tomatoes and basil in the yard or at the farmers market, a bottle of olive oil, and a good loaf of sourdough bread, you’re set.

First, catch your tomatoes. Meaty beefsteak types are delicious here, but you can use any really flavorful tomato, including ripe sweet Sungold or Green Grape cherry tomatoes. If you have bland and blah tomatoes, do something else with them; this demands great tomato flavor. If you don’t bake your own bread, get a good loaf of crusty sourdough or a crusty baguette; in our area the baguettes from Sage Bakehouse are hard to beat. Make your basil into pesto according to your favorite recipe or use my own favorite below. During the summer, I usually have some pesto handy, and it will keep a day or two without much loss of flavor, making this truly fast food. It’s also good for a mixed group of omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans.

You’ll need (at a minimum) half a big beefsteak tomato or one regular tomato or at least a dozen cherry tomatoes per person. When you’re ready to eat, slice the tomatoes and spread them out on a plate. A lot of juice will probably run out on the cutting board. Make sure to pour it onto the plate. Juice is half the point here. Drizzle with pesto and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Drizzle on a little of your best olive oil. Slice the bread and toast or grill it. Bring the tomatoes and bread to the table on two separate plates, with a small plate for each person. The lucky eaters will need a spoon to scoop tomatoes and juice onto their crusty bread. They will also need to be sufficiently at ease to shamelessly rub their bread into the delicious juices on the tomato plate. Have plenty of napkins handy.
For more on pesto, click here!

For notes on making pesto and on herbs generally, please visit the “herbs” section of my website recipe page.
In brief, make sure that your basil never goes in the refrigerator. Low temperatures harm the aromatic esters, and it will not smell or taste the same when it comes out. Don’t cut it until you need it, or keep it on the counter with the stems in a jar of water for a day or two.
Pesto Genovese
Nothing unusual about this recipe; why mess with a great classic? But to achieve perfection make it only in summer and only with your own fresh basil, picked when less than a foot high, and use the mortar and pestle for best flavor. Once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t take more than 10-12 minutes to make, even without use of the food processor.
2-3 large cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
2 tightly packed cups fresh basil leaves, plus additional sprigs for garnish if desired
¼ cup toasted pine nuts

½ cup best olive oil

Pound the garlic and salt in the mortar until crushed to a fine puree. Add the basil leaves in two or three batches and grind thoroughly; this is best accomplished by pounding down with the pestle until the leaves are greatly reduced in bulk, then using a circular motion around the bowl with the pestle, grinding fairly hard. When a coarse green puree has been achieved, add the pine nuts, crushing only until the nuts are broken but not crushed to paste. When you have a puree but small pieces of pine nutare still visible, add the olive oil and stir vigorously with the pestle until the sauce is well amalgamated. If you plan to use it for the tomato recipe, you’re done. If you want a classic pesto Genovese for pasta, crush in half a cup of top-quality Parmesan and 1-2 oz of very good Romano, grated, after the pine nuts step, and pour over half a pound of good pasta cooked al dente.

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