Posts Tagged ‘pesto’

The Joys of Summer: Simple Lunches

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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.
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The Greens of Spring: cutting celery and lovage

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Cutting celery is one of the most underutilized herbs that I know of. It has the flavor of stalk celery without its potential aggression, and can be used in almost any herb mixture. It grows like a weed and can be snipped at for nine months of the year. It seeds itself like a weed, too, so once your clump is established, keep cutting it back to prevent seeding. Throw a few stalks in the pot every time you make broth or stock, chiffonade it into rice or bulgar pilafs, throw a chopped handful into nearly any mixed greens dish. It seems to support the other flavors without taking over.
Lovage, shown below, is another matter. It grows best in semi-shade in our sunny climate. It’s loaded with quercetin and other antioxidants and has a fascinating celery-juniper flavor, , and I wouldn’t be without it, but the flavor is insidious and can dominate a dish. A few leaves are plenty for most dishes and a leaf or two chiffonaded into a vinaigrette will give it more complexity. More will unbalance the flavors, at least to my palate. My favorite way to use it is in Lovage Pesto, where it is used lavishly but the garlic keeps the lovage under control. Lovage will shoot to seed and die if you let it, so keep cutting if you want to keep it. Also, bear in mind that the plant gets pretty big, and site it where it can have a couple of square feet to itself when it matures.

Lovage Pesto
4 large cloves garlic, chopped
About 6 cups of lovage leaves, no stems, loosely packed
1and ½ cups full-flavored olive oil
1 cup walnut pieces
1½ teaspoons sea salt

For this recipe, the food processor is okay. Chop the garlic in your food processor, then add the lovage leaves and half the oil and process until the leaves are coarsely chopped. Add the salt, the rest of the oil, and the walnuts, and process only until the nuts are coarsely ground. Let mellow for an hour before use. It can be tossed with pasta and parmesan like other pestos, or makes a good marinade for fish (add a squeeze of lemon if you wish.) It can be brought to the table with roast lamb as a sauce to dip into sparingly. A spoonful is a good addition to a simple vinaigrette. Tightly covered, it will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
For more on herbs, visit the “recipes” page of my website and click on “herbs.”
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Lovage in early spring. It gets three times this size in a couple of months.