The Lazy, Shorter Days of Summer: Late Season Pesto Plus MVK’s *Like* of the Week

Summertime and the living is easy!

Summertime, and the livin’ is easy!

Vermont in August is one of my favorite times of the year. While the light has quickly diminished in both the morning and evening, the fields are now a bright yellow with goldenrod, a little bit quieter, and the gardens have reached their peaks. While the days can still be quite warm, nighttime is usually perfectly cool sleeping weather. Weekends are spent at the lake, soaking in the sun and making memories that (hopefully) will keep us warm in the winter.

Speaking of gardens, you’ll never see me turn down an offer of free vegetables or fruit from someone’s garden. Which was the reason I was cutting up cups and cups of late season rhubarb for pies a couple of weeks ago, and why I found myself in a friend’s garden one recent evening, pulling all of the basil that she didn’t want. While it was almost past its time, it was still salvageable and all I could see was green, and knew I could make mounds and mounds of pesto.

I can grow tired very quickly if I eat the same thing all the time–leftovers are a two-meal minimum for me–but I think I could eat pesto every day and be completely happy! There is something about the mixture of basil, garlic, nuts, cheese, and olive oil that is heaven on a plate. During the summer I make it just about every Monday night for dinner. Even during my detox I talked about a few weeks ago, I created a dairy-free pesto that was almost as good as the real thing, served over quinoa pasta! For my friend who graciously gave me the basil, I made a nut-free and dairy free version for her.

The word pesto comes from the Italian, pestare, which means “to pound or crush,” and I have certainly made it many times the authentic way with a mortar and pestle, but my blender is a lot quicker when making lots. For nuts, I’ve used almonds, walnuts, or the traditional pine nuts. Or I’ve left them out if I don’t have any on hand. Making batches ahead of time will be a way to bring some summer into the darkness of the cold, winter months!

It's a pesto explosion in my kitchen!

It’s a pesto explosion in my kitchen!

Late Season Pesto

I don’t measure when I make this. Ever. So these are my approximations of measurements. I go by taste, so as you’re mixing, keep tasting to see if it suits your palate. When freezing, I put a little piece of plastic wrap on the top of the pesto to keep it from drying out.

1 large garlic clove
2 large handfuls of basil leaves
A few parsley stalks (preferably flat-leafed parsley), about 2-3 tablespoons
About 3 tablespoons grated parmesan or Asiago cheese
2 tablespoons whole almonds (or substitute walnuts or pine nuts)
Extra virgin olive oil, roughly ¼ cup (you can also use some hot water as a substitute for some of the oil)

With a blender, add the ingredients one at a time, ending with enough olive oil to make a paste. Serve over pasta, veggies, fish, or toasted bread.

movie posterMVK’s *Like of the Week: “That Sugar Film”
Are you like me and think the food you find in a health food store is good for you? Think again. Australian filmmaker, Damon Gameau, has a movie out, based on the movie “Super Size Me,” where he eats only “health foods,” but which are actually filled with added sugar. For two months, he gave up his normal diet of fresh foods for one that contains 40 teaspoons of sugar daily. But he wasn’t eating the obvious sugary foods like ice cream, candy, and soda. He instead focused on those foods perceived as healthy, but which contain added sugars: juices, low-fat yogurt, healthy bars, cereals. The effect of the diet is shocking.

While I think the movie is a bit gimmicky to get his point across, maybe this will be added to the American dialogue we are having about food and how it can help, or in this case hurt, your body. You can read more about the film and watch a trailer by clicking here.

Homemade Dumplings with Spring Herbs

I’m up with the first chirps of the birds at 4:15, my peony bush I planted as a root five (or is it six?) years finally has blossoms which are the size of small dinner plates, and and the days are long, long, long. Yes, it is June. A month I wait for 12 months, when the fields have their deep, rich, sweet smells you can’t find anywhere else, the birds have a symphony all day long, and the crops are starting to come in. The deep darkness of January is a faint memory.

Saturdays tend to be the day I do all my food shopping, so the evening meals are extra special; a lot more time to cook than during the week and sometimes the meals are a bit more complicated. This Saturday I knew what I wanted to make. Several months ago I had made a beef stew in the crock pot and the accompaniment was spaetzle, the German version of dumplings or Italian pasta. My Eastern European roots were showing, these were easy to make, you have to work fast with the boiling water, but oh, they were delicious. All spring I’d been thinking of them and wanting to make them a bit more special. With fresh chives and thyme in the herb garden, I decided to add the herbs to the dish, but with just a simple dressing of a little bit of olive oil and freshly grated cheese.

Homemade dumplings aren’t really difficult to make, it’s just a bit on the messy side. In a bowl, add a cup of flour and some salt, about ½ teaspoon or so. Whisk together, add an egg and a little bit of water or milk and mix until all is incorporated. That’s it! I added about a teaspoon of chopped thyme and 2 tablespoons of chives and mixed it together. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it on the counter for 45 minutes or so.

Now comes the messy part. Fill a Dutch oven with water and bring to a boil. While this is happening, I divide the pasta into thirds. With flour-covered hands, I pull off a little bit and roll into thin strips and just keep doing this. Mind you, when they boil they turn into short stubby fingers, but you can always play around with the shapes. (This is my method, but the instructions for the recipe this is derived from has a much easier method. And from the looks of it, a much cleaner one, too!) When I have a batch ready to go, I pop them into the boiling water, and just wait until they come to the top. That’s when you know they’re done.

With a slotted spoon, add the dumplings to a large bowl, and just repeat the steps until you’re done. I was thinking a quick and simple red sauce would go well with this, too. Or adding some chopped fresh spinach and maybe some early garlic. The possibilities are endless!

Homemade Dumplings with Spring Herbs
Recipe adapted from Beth Hensperger’s recipe for spaetzle dumplings in the cookbook, Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Recipes for Two, Harvard Common Press, 2007.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3-4 tablespoons cold milk or water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (I used olive oil)
Sour cream to taste

1. In a medium size bowl, combine the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the egg and milk in the center. Blend well with a wooden spoon until evenly moistened; the dough will be very thick and moist. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.

2. Bring a large stockpot of salted water to a rapid boil. If shaping by hand, place the dough on a wet cutting board and rest it on the rim of the pot. Using a damp paring knife or soup spoon, cut off little irregular portions of the width of a pencil and about 1/2 inch long at the edge of the board and let them fall into the boiling water. If using a spaetzle maker, position it over the boiling water; it will rest on the rim of the pot. Place the dough in the hopper and slide the carriage back and forth, dropping pear-shaped bits of dough into the water.

3. Simmer the spaetzle, uncovered, until they float back up to the surface, about 30 seconds. Remove with a fine-mesh strainer or slotted spoon, shake off the excess water, and place in a shallow casserole. Toss with the unsalted butter (or olive oil) and a dab of sour cream (if using) to keep them from sticking together. Serve immediately as a side dish, or cover and refrigerate for up to 8 hours. Reheat for 12 to 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.