Whirr, whirr, done.  Talk about no cook.  It’s done PRESTO!

If it’s mid – late summer, I’m gunning for basil.  (If it’s earlier, I’m planting it and watering it.)  I’ve got pots full myself, but I also have to hit the farmer’s market for more.  At a buck for a big bunch, I get arm fulls.

My piano teacher and I hit the farmer’s market.

Here it is taking a bath in my kitchen sink with the Japanese eggplant and yellow zucchini I’m cleaning for the ratatouille I blogged on the  Dinner Place blog (The Solo Cook.)  They really like to get in the tub together.  I loved looking at this gorgeous mix of veg.  Could the colors get any better?

What is pesto?  Lots of you DO know.  But!  If you don’t:
Take the basil, whirr it in the food processor (traditionally mortar and pestle) with lots of garlic, pine nuts and/or walnuts, olive oil, Parmesan, and you have saucy green love.  In Italy, it’s pesto.  In France, pistou.  And it’s Presto! (Very quick, indeed, in the language of music) wherever you make it.

When I decided to blog pesto, I almost didn’t.  Pesto isn’t something new.  It may be four hundred years old in Europe and it’s certainly no culinary upstart in the United States.

The first time I ran across pesto was in the late ’70s in THE SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK (by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins with Michael McLaughlin.  Workman, 1979; 362p).  This was a life-changing cookbook not only for me, but for women everywhere who cooked.  If you want to know why, check out the cookbooks that were written and printed before this one.  It’s so important in my life that I have nearly worn out my paperback copy and, while I still use it, bought a hardback copy for a back-up and for my kids later on.

The more I thought about it, the more I decided to just go ahead and put pesto on my roster of blog posts.  How could something I love so much not be here?

I still basically make pesto from that recipe, though I use others, too–the one from THE GOURMET COOKBOOK (edited by Ruth Reichl and published in 2004 by Houghlin Mifflin) comes to mind.  By this time, I’ve adjusted any and all of them to my own tastes (as should you) and am purely and simply summer-happy whenever it’s time to use all that basil. 

Pasta with Pesto….the most popular use, I’ll guess:

Here with 365 (Whole Foods brand) whole wheat pasta

  Other ways to use pesto:

  •  on/in an omelet
  • as a veggie dip
  • on grilled chops
  • as a sauce for fish or chicken
  • on pizza
  • with crackers
  • on grilled vegetables
  • topping lamb chops
  • gracing grilled baguette
  • dribbled on sliced tomatoes or sliced tomatoes and sliced mozzerella in place of basil leaves.

 Or…  well, you go next.  How about in a spoon in your mouth– or mine?

In Italy,  pesto often has cheese in it; in France, not so often.  The French version, pistou, is often used as a condiment at table to, well, to create a different or simply more engaging vegetable soup.  A simple bowl of fresh vegetable soup and a big bowl of pistou on the table.  Everyone helps themselves and no one would deny the pistou makes the meal.  Some folks want a teensy bit and others want a big dollop.  Just for fun, here’s a recipe for Wolfgang Puck’s Soupe au Pistou; this one happens to have tomatoes in the pistou, which also sounds lovely.

By the way, there are those even in the Italian mode that leave the cheese out of the pesto (to keep it bright green) and grate it on top.  There are other purists who only make the pesto from tiny, fresh basil plants with just six or so leaves and use much less basil.  Si place; do as you like! (I use the big plants that I love to grow in the garden all summer.)  The addition of pine nuts to Italian pesto is a fairly new thing; people couldn’t afford them in years past and used walnuts–as did many Americans.  I use a combination of the two as pine nuts are nearly $30. a pound.

No matter how you make it or with what (and you can make it with all kinds of herbs or greens besides basil), enjoy the bounty.  And, by the way, pesto freezes.  So, if you can, buy extra basil, make copious amounts of pesto (freeze lots) and take some out for New Year’s Day for a quick whiff of summer.

By the way, you can buy ready-made pesto.  It’s pricey, though, and it’s not as good.  Nor does it keep.  So if you buy a quart at Costco, you better plan on eating a quart right quick.  Better to make it. Yourself.  In July or August.  And be….happy.  Here’s how:

Pesto a la Alyce, The Silver Palate, and The Gourmet Cookbook makes 2 cups

2 cups fresh basil leaves, clean and very dry  (pat carefully with light weight cotton or paper towels)
5-6 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c walnuts, chopped
1/2 c pine nuts
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (use the good stuff)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the basil, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor (if using a blender, do half at a time) and pulse til well chopped and combined.  With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil.   Shut the machine off and add the cheese.  Stir well.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Stir again.

I never told you this:  if the pesto seems a tad tame, dot in a few drops of Tabasco or other hot sauce, but don’t tell anyone.  Definitely not in the regular pesto regime. Don’t over do it; just give it a bit of body.

Keeps in frig (cover with plastic wrap right on the surface of the pesto) 2-3 days if not using immediately.  Freeze for up to six months.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

Long beans grown by our local farmers:  saute or use in stir fry.

The babies.

Above:  Minnesota summer wildflowers.

Coming up soon….ratatouille a la Minnesota

Sing a new song, Alyce