Summer heat has arrived, and our organic kitchen garden is exploding with edibles. Mind you, that's only because I water it every other day. We've had no moisture in the past six weeks, and precious little for the past ten months. In fact, our county has just officially slipped into severe drought status. Oh, for rain!
Still, we've got an abundance of greens and herbs. So I've been making pesto. Basil pesto last Friday, chervil pesto Sunday, and tonight, arugula pesto. Pesto is the simplest way I know of to preserve fresh herbs and their burst of flavor (and vitamins) for later use. I fill cup-sized jars with it and either put them in the fridge for use in the next few weeks, or freeze them. In winter, we use pesto as a sandwich spread (it's much healthier than mayo or butter), a sauce for rice, pasta, or simply steamed vegetables, and an addition to savory muffins and other baked goods.
Pesto is ridiculously easy to make if you have a food processor or blender (you can also pound it in a mortar and pestle). Plant a few pots of leafy herbs (like parsley, basil, chervil, or cilantro) and you are set to harvest your own pesto makings, a truly satisfying enterprise.
The basic recipe for pesto is simple:
2 cups of fresh herbs (wash and trim tough stems and browned leaves)
2 – 4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup hard, aged cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Manchego–any kind you like)
1/4 cup nuts (traditionally, pine nuts, but I go for more local nuts, including pecans, walnuts and pepitas, pumpkin seeds)
1/4 – 1/2 cup good olive oil (I use organic oil; more makes thinner pesto, less makes thicker pesto)
Experimenting with different herbs and different kinds of nuts and cheese is fun, and gives you a sense of the flavor variations possible in this most versatile way to preserve summer's garden herbs for now or for months later.
This morning I noticed that the arugula, which does not like heat, was bolting. So I thinned it out, harvesting about a half-pound of fresh green leaves and flower buds. Hence tonight's pesto-making.
That's the arugula, a peppery green, in the photo above, washed and about to be stored in the fridge in a clean, dampened kitchen towel to keep it moist. (I don't use paper towels much anymore; cloth towels work just as well in most instances and they're much more sustainable since you can reuse them over and over again.) Arugula is in the mustard family, along with broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, mizuna, and, of course, mustard greens.
Here's my recipe for arugula pesto, a wonderfully green and peppery sauce or spread (that's my arugula pesto in the photo near the beginning of the post):
Susan's arugula pesto
2 cups arugula leaves, stems, and flower buds
½ cup spinach leaves (to lend its fresh green color to the pesto)
2 cloves garlic
½ cup Manchego or other hard, aged cheese, cut into one-inch chunks
½ cup pecans
½ cup olive oil
Wash the arugula, pat or spin dry, and cut out any coarse stems. Whirl garlic cloves in food processor until minced. Add nuts and cheese, and pulse until the mixture looks like a coarse meal. Add arugula and spinach and process while slowly pouring in olive oil. Makes about 1 cup and a half of pesto, a generous amount for pasta for four people. Enjoy!
On a personal note, I have to say that preserving the harvest from our kitchen garden, something I have always found very satisfying, is bittersweet this summer. As I label jars of pesto and put them in the freezer, I wonder if Richard will be with me to savor them on his lunchtime sandwiches come winter. It's a punch-in-the-gut reminder that we never know what's ahead, even though we often live as if our lives were infinite. Richard's brain cancer is teaching us to savor each moment, because it's what we have.
I'm not freezing all the pesto. We ate some on tortilla chips before tonight's dinner, because it was fresh and we were together to enjoy it.