Don't Leave Me This Way, Basil Baby
In just nine short days, autumn officially takes over, which in this part of the country means bracing one's self for the end of so many warm-weather produce goodies, from Anaheim chiles to zucchini. I know, they'll all be back next year, but inevitably I get a bit wistful, pining for tangled cucumber vines and corn husks even as they disappear into the quickly fading sunset.
At many farm markets, it will likely be the last hurrah for corn, peaches, cucumbers, and the delicately-leafed basil.
Yesterday afternoon, I faced a harsh reality, watching two basil-y bunches in a pitcher of water on the kitchen counter wilt before my eyes. I knew I had to act fast and make the most of what would probably be my final basil moment for the season. These leaves were useless for garnish or as part of a salad, but pureed for pesto, they would be better than fine.
Chop, chop, I smashed some garlic and a handful of walnuts from the freezer, and into the food processor they went with my pathetic-looking leaves. Whiz, whiz went the machine, and within a minute, I had a pesto-in-progress, awaiting its moment of emulsification.
A handful of cheese and a spritz of salt later, I loudly exhale, relieved to have saved the basil in the nick of time before it disintegrated into compost.
Excited by the pesto-y dinner prospects, I rifled through the cabinets and the crisper drawers of the fridge, looking for suitable companions, other than pasta, the traditional pesto partner. Out came a handful of yellow-fleshed potatoes and a bag of yellow wax beans.
I put on a pot of water to boil and chopped up the potatoes (which in hindsight, I should have diced to allow for more pesto coverage.)
On the other front burner, I heated up some oil in a skillet, added half of a chopped shallot over lowish heat and tossed in those snipped beans for a quick sautÃ©. Just before I turned off the heat, I threw in a handful of halved sun gold tomatoes for color and acid, to complement the fatty pesto.
The boiled taters were drained (save a smidge of cooking water to keep things moist) and then tossed with a few spoonfuls of pesto, just as with the crispy bean mixture in another bowl.
As we slurped up supper, I thought about other pesto possibilities -- sauteed zucchini and onions, inside an omelet, atop a bowl of gazpacho or bean soup, spread on bread for a magnificent turkey sandwich or BLT.
Quick! Before it's too late, share your tried-and-true basil-y bests. How do you do the pesto dance? Do tell. This weekend may be our last chance!
2 cups basil leaves, pulled from stems
1/4cup nuts - pine nuts, walnuts, almonds, coarsely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmigiano
salt to taste
Place basil, nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and puree, occasionally stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl. Gradually add oil and whiz mixture until well combined and smooth. Scoop out of bowl and stir in cheese. Taste for salt and add to taste.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups pesto.
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