Bye-bye sweet basil!
Summer in Atlanta, where did you go? I realize I just returned from New Orleans where it was really hot and steamy, but what happened here? Suddenly it's cool in the mornings, there are different varieties of birds at the backyard feeders and it's completely dark by 8pm these days. There was even a sharp-shinned hawk with a freshly-killed squirrel out there today (yikes - I'm keeping a close eye on those little white dogs of mine). Hold on! I'm not ready to let go of fresh, sweet corn, vine-ripe tomatoes, dinner on the patio and casual outdoor grilling. Stop already!
Nonetheless, autumn is quickly approaching and I realized I had better get my act together and harvest what was left of the basil I planted last spring before it keeled over. There was a lot of it. Enough to keep me in pesto until spring comes around again and I can plant a brand-new crop.
I adore pesto. I love its versatility. You can throw it over a block of cream cheese (or better yet, herbed garlic cheese) and you have an instant appetizer. Smear a little goat cheese on a baguette slice, top with pesto and maybe a roasted cherry tomato half and run it under the broiler for a delicious snack. It has a wonderful affinity with salmon (preferably King) and it's delicious with grilled chicken as well. My favorite dish, however, is a bowl of whole wheat penne tossed with pesto and some leftover grilled chicken. The idea may be ordinary, but the taste is not.
(Note: these are basic proportions. Adjust as you see fit, depending upon the amount of basil you have and whether or not you want more or less garlic, pine nuts, cheese, etc.)
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
Kosher salt to taste
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Yield: approximately 1 1/2 cups
A couple of things:
For my favorite meal, cook up some whole wheat penne until just done but still al dente or "to the bite." Drain pasta, reserving at least 1 cup of the pasta water. Return penne to the pan and add a generous dollop of pesto and toss well. Add enough pasta water to thin it out a bit. Throw in some sliced leftover chicken if you have it and toss over medium heat until the whole thing is heated through. Taste to adjust seasonings. Easy enough? (And yes, I have made this for company!)
One of Andy's old friends has always refused to eat anything green (he's now in medical school, heaven help us). He loves my pesto, though!
If you hate pine nuts, you can always substitute toasted walnuts (or pecans, if you live in the south). I, however, prefer to stick with pine nuts. Don't skip the step of toasting them, either in a skillet or in the oven. It adds a significant depth of flavor.
You can freeze your pesto as long as it is wrapped well. When ready to use, just thaw in the refrigerator for a day before using. Pretend it's summer.