Green magic

Surely basil is the most delicious of all culinary herbs, made more so by the fact that it must be used fresh, and, because it’s an annual, it’s not available year-round in most climates. So basil is something to long for and look forward to for a good part of the year. And surely pesto is the greatest invention that humankind has ever achieved. Tonight I made my first batch of pesto for the year. I was so excited, I forgot to take pictures.

Anyway, here’s how you make pesto: Around the end of May, you buy a flat of basil plants and plant them in the ground. Good, rich soil helps. These plants will work hard all summer. When you see that they’re beginning to bloom (that was yesterday), you cut the plants off almost at ground level (leave a pair of leaves so the plants have some energy to grow back). I cut 10 plants. leaving 6 so I can have fresh basil all the time. I can find a lot of uses for fresh basil.

Take the cut plants in the house, enjoying the heavenly aroma, and wash them well. Pluck off the leaves–only the perfect leaves, not yellow leaves or stems or flowers–and put them in a salad spinner. Wash them again, and spin to dry.

Peel three cloves of garlic and chop them in the bowl of a large food processor, using the sharp blade. Then put in the basil leaves (which should fill the bowl). Add 1/3 cup of pine nuts, toasted if you like (but not hot), and some salt and pepper. You can also put in some grated Parmigiano Reggiano (the best stuff only, not domestic or pre-grated Parmesan), but it’s not necessary. Run the food processor to chop everything together, and when the pesto is almost fully combined, pour in 1/3 cup of olive oil in a thin stream with the motor running.

Taste for seasoning, and freeze the pesto in little containers, each holding about 2 tablespoons, which is ample for a meal for two people. This recipe makes about 6 of those containers. When you serve pesto on pasta, defrost it and mix it in a big bowl with a little of the pasta water to thin it out. Then add the hot pasta and lots of grated cheese.

The best part about growing basil is that in about a month, the plants will have regrown and I’ll be able to make another batch of pesto. There’s nothing like taking a container of green magic–the taste of summer–out of the freezer and eating pasta with pesto on a cold, dark winter day.


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