Posts Tagged ‘pesto’

Living in Interesting Times: Tough Herbs


Joyous Ostara/Passover/Easter, happy Spring, or whatever you choose to celebrate when life is returning to the soil. “Spring is Christ, raising dead plants from their shrouds” Rumi said, and any ordinary yard shows us the truth of it.  These are strange times indeed, and the best way to keep yourself safe is to stay home. Gardeners and permaculturists are used to staying home, and have plenty to stay home for. This is the glory season for greens and herbs.

I have written before about one of my favorite plants, bronze fennel, and you can find that post here. Today I’ll just remind you that it is very ornamental most of the time and you can easily sneak it past your homeowners association if you are unlucky enough to have one. Pollinating insects adore it, and so do I. It will take two or three years to reach a good size, so start now.

in the spring I like to make herb pesto used to have on hand for all kinds of seasoning uses. Essentially, pesto involves garlic in some form, herb leaves, nuts of some kind, and olive oil. I typically add the cheese at a later stage.

Don’t make pesto just by throwing together all the herbs you have. Herbs have strong flavors, and some contemplative tasting, sniffing, and thinking is called for to make sure you have a coherent and appealing flavor picture. I made this one yesterday morning, picking the  fennel first, and decided to go with the anise flavor and chose anise hyssop and a fruity mint, a couple of stout sprigs of each, and two stalks of green garlic.

in my opinion, proper pestos are made with a mortar and pesto. Use the food processor if you must, but please, don’t even think about using the blender. Blended leaves all acquire an off, grassy taste. Wash the herbs, remove tough stems, chop the leaves coarsely, and peel the green garlic down to tender parts and finely slice it crosswise. Pound the garlic in the mortar with a good pinch of salt until it is pretty thoroughly crushed, then add the chopped leaves and pound to a chunky paste. Then add nights of your choice and decide how finally to crush them. The herbs had a Sardinian taste so I added roasted salted pistachio kernels and pounded them only until coarsely crushed. Pound in a little really good herbaceous olive oil, then stir in more oil to the consistency that you want. Check for salt.

It smelled so good that I was eager to eat some right away, so for lunch we had fresh handmade egg linguine with half the herb pesto, a couple of glugs of additional olive oil, and some top notch Parmesan. Yum. The rest of the pesto went in a jar, and later that day I stirred up some sourdough bread dough and left it to rise in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day I took the dough out of the refrigerator mid-morning and let it come to room temperature for a couple of hours. Then I patted a loaf’s worth of the dough out into a large somewhat erratic rectangle on an oiled board, smeared it thickly with the rest of the pesto, and then topped it with grated Romano. This was rolled into a long loaf and left to rise on a baking sheet, then slashed across the top, brushed with more olive oil, and baked in a preheated 425 degree oven until done. After cooling on a rack for 15 minutes, it was ready to break into beautiful fragrant chunks and eat as an Easter lunch full of the flavors of the season. Butter was excessive, but that didn’t stop us.

The amount of pesto to make is a very individual decision. The flavor of this one is subtler than it sounds, and I picked a nice sized bouquet of fennel leaves and ended up with about a cup of pesto, divided between the two dishes here.

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.
For more on pesto, click here! Continue reading

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.