Fresh herbs (Recipe: basil pesto)
For six months of every year, my pantry spills out the kitchen door, down the front steps, and into the herb garden.
Ted and I share the garden with rabbits, deer, bees, beetles, and the turtles who come uphill from the wetlands two houses away, every year in late May, to lay their eggs next to the chives and tarragon.
Fresh herbs -- really fresh, harvested in the minutes before I cook with them -- have spoiled me for life.
First came basil, because we live in Rhode Island, the most Italian of all states, where a garden without basil would be unthinkable.
Then parsley, sage, and the rest of the song.
This year, we added a few harder-to-find annuals and perennials: lime basil, lemon thyme, lemongrass, horseradish.
We're spoiled. No doubt about it.
An unlimited supply of perky flat-leaf parsley, fragrant and crispy Genovese basil, and flavorful English thyme (my favorite herb of all) has changed the way I cook and the way I shop for produce at both grocery stores and farmers' markets. Though in some dishes dried herbs can take the place of fresh, I wouldn't think of making cilantro slaw, herb muffins, pasta with herbs and lemon, eggs baked in herb crepes, or rice salad with tuna, olives and herbs without fresh herbs.
You can store herbs in the refrigerator for a couple of days, if you don't have an herb garden. I dry and freeze my herbs during the summer to use during the winter months, when the offerings in the supermarket (even the upscale ones) are limp, flavorless and trucked in from someplace else. Ted made a drying screen from an old window frame and two sheets of screening material that sandwich the herbs and allow air to flow around them, so the herbs dry without getting moldy.
Here in Rhode Island, everyone makes pasta with pesto, but I like to add a dollop to vegetable soups, to bump up the flavor. Quick and easy, this recipe makes enough to sauce 1-1/2 lbs of pasta.
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Place basil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until chopped. With the machine running, add olive oil in a stream until desired consistency is achieved. Stir in the mayonnaise and *cheese. Serve right away, or cover in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to three days.
To freeze, *omit the cheese. Portion the pesto into an ice cube tray. Freeze the tray, then pop out the cubes of pesto and store in a ziploc bag. When you're ready to use it, take as many cubes as you need. Let it defrost, and stir in some fresh grated parmesan cheese to taste.