Tuesday, May 29, 2007

First Harvest

I've snipped plenty of oregano, thyme, and chives from the garden already this year, but tonight, I performed my first real harvest: a bowlful of basil. The tomatoes and peppers are setting like mad, the eggplants are beginning their slow elongation, and the melons have started the very first of their male flowers, but those fruiting crops are still a long way off. The basil, however, is already lush and about to burst into blossom, so I cut the tops off all my plants to ensure prolonged leafing, with the wonderful side benefit of a healthy crop.

I knew before I pruned what I'd be making for dinner tonight: tagliatelle with pesto and a side of grilled Italian sausage. (Yes, the meat is the side, for pesto, as you know, steals the show). However, I wanted to try something a little different, something I had read in Clotilde Dusoulier's book (named after her blog) Chocolate and Zucchini. Tonight's pesto would not be fortified with pine nuts, the usual thickener, but instead with pistachios.

Boy, was this fun to make. The smell in the whole whirling, food processing experience made it hard for me to wait until the pasta was finished cooking to taste the pesto, so I didn't. I dipped a spoon in for smidgin' of the paste. Green, garlicky, sweet goodness! The pistachios sweeten up the pesto more than pine nuts do, and their pretty green flesh amplifies its color. Tossed with the tagliatelle and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan, this meal made both ECG and I moan. When I asked ECG my customary dinner-time question, "Will you tell me about the best part of your day?" he answered, "Right now, eating this."

I'll be making this each time my basil plants near blossom. I'll toss it with pasta, smear it on bread, dip vegetables in it, and grin each time. Poor basil, you'll never bloom, but you'll be making me very happy, just the same.

Pistachio Pesto
Adapted very slightly from Chocolate and Zucchini

You will need:
1 cup shelled and unsalted pistachios (I bought the roasted unsalted pistachios at Trader Joe's and shelled them myself)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
freshly ground pepper
1 big bunch of basil leaves, stripped from their stems (Dusoulier calls for a cup of tightly packed basil, but that isn't an easy way to measure, not that I have a better way. Actually, I do: I should have weighed the basil, but I forgot to. Sorry.)
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/3-1/2 cup good olive oil

To make the pesto:
Combine pistachios, garlic, salt, and a few healthy grindings of pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the ingredients until they are chopped finely. Add the basil leaves and cheese. Turn the machine on, and while the ingredients are whirling about the bowl of the food processor, pour 1/3 cup of olive oil in through the opening on top. Let the ingredients spin until they begin to turn from distinctly separate grains into more of a paste. It won't be completely smooth, but it will definitely hold together and appear more condiment-like than chunky salad. If you'd like a looser pesto, add more oil. Turn the machine off, remove the lid, take a deep breath of that amazing basic-garlic-goodness, and taste for salt and pepper. Adjust as necessary.

If you aren't going to use the pesto right away, pack it in an airtight container, and pour a layer of olive oil over the top to keep it from oxidizing (and turning black-ish). It should keep a day or two in the refrigerator.


Susan said...

First harvests are so exciting. Pinching back the basil flowers releases all that heady fragrance. The regenerative quality of some plants is truly amazing. It's good to be a gardener...and a cook!

The pistachios enhance the green very nicely. Very lush and tempting.

Freya said...

Wonderful! I love having fresh herbs at my disposal, just being able to reach out and pick them!
This pistachio based pesto is brilliant!

Lucy said...

The fragrance that basil releases is a very luscious thing indeed. Green and very, very good.

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Christina said...

Susan: It certainly is good to be both; right now, I can't decide which I prefer more as both seem to be extensions of the other.

Freya and Paul: I've always used herbs, but now that I'm growing them, I use them with abandon. Thanks for the compliments, and welcome to my blog.

Hi Lucy: Oh yes, it smells divine. Keep up the lovely photography on your site--I can't get enough of it.

Anonymous said...

Nothing screams the start of summer like fresh basil. I love cooking with fresh herbs--especially love the satisfaction of having grown them myself. Can't wait to try the pistachio pesto! Thanks!
BTW--love the name of your site!

Christina said...

Karen: Thanks for the compliments. Enjoy the pesto!

Erin S. said...

Yum...fresh basil. My thumb is black so I rely on the farmers' markets, but wish I could grow my own!!