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.

Cilantro Pesto

I can hear the “boos and hisses” already! I know that some eaters absolutely despise cilantro, avoiding it at all costs, but bear with me! Admittedly, I didn’t like cilantro for many years, but through time it has become a favorite herb, although one that is used sparingly. It always seems when I buy a bunch, though, it always ends up forgotten in the bottom of the veggie bin until I discover it as a black, slimy mess. But this recipe solves this problem!

I became familiar with cilantro pesto several years back from a colleague of mine. And while I was skeptical, I was a convert after that first bite. You make this just like its Italian counterpart, but to me, the flavor has a little zing to it. A squirt of lemon juice at the end was perfect. And I think a lot of the cilantro “flavor” is lost with the mixing of the nuts, garlic, and cheese. I added some green beans when I was cooking the pasta which added a nice crunch. I find taking the leaves off the stems a bit tedious, but you can take off just the woody end pieces, as the more delicate stems are edible. With the farmers market booming and overflowing with fresh garlic, veggies, and herbs, now is a perfect time to try this out!

Helpful Kitchen Hint: If you are gluten-intolerant, you can use this pesto on meat, fish, or even as a dip with veggies or chips!

Of course, the real test is with the eater of the house, a self-confessed cilantro hater. I put out two different kinds of pesto, cilantro and basil. When I went to clean up the kitchen, guess which one was gone? He will say it was because he was starving, but I think it’s because he liked it!

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Cilanto Pesto
2 medium garlic cloves
1 cup, lightly packed cilantro leaves
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 Tablespoon warm water
½ cup shredded parmesan or Asiago cheese
1 Tablespoon pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds), toasted if desired
1 squirt fresh lemon juice

This recipe is all in the blender. Add the garlic cloves down the chute with the blades set at chop. Add the cilantro, oil, water, and cheese, and pulse until it is a thin paste. Add the pine nuts and lemon juice. Pulse until it all comes together. Add a little more water or oil if it is too thick.

I Went to a Garden Party…

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This happy yellow iris was given to me by my friend, Deb, a few years back. It greets me with its bright color every time I come home.

And a couple of weeks ago, I did just that! It was my longtime friend Chris’s birthday. She invited me over to her friend Annie’s house for a garden birthday dinner before heading out to hear music that evening. It was hotter than blazes that day, but we had a spot in the shade with some cool dishes to eat that was just perfect. Small salads that require no cooking and “finger sandwiches” were served alongside sun tea and white wine. It was the perfect dinner, and it got me thinking of garden parties and how much fun they are, mostly for the variety of food!

Annie served these “sandwiches” that were delicious, so of course I had to go home and recreate them. I always am looking for quick ideas for weekday lunches or dinner during the week when I don’t feel like cooking.

I’ve gotten in the habit recently of poaching a couple of boneless chicken breasts on Sunday or Monday for the coming week. This is great, so you have fresh chicken available to add to salads, make chicken salad, or to make these delicious sandwiches. Once the chicken is cooled from baking, I either dice or shred it so it’s ready to go.

I have no idea what to call these, Chicken Rollups? Chicken Cigars? Chicken Finger Sandwiches? Whichever name you select, it doesn’t require a “recipe” per se. Take one tortilla and add some pesto sauce. (My homemade recipe can be found here or you can use store-bought.) Cover it with some shredded chicken and some lettuce. Roll up like a cigar and slice in half. If you’re gluten-free, substituting Boston lettuce leaves for the tortilla shells would be perfect, you might need to use a toothpick to be sure everything stays in place.

As I was making these, I thought some shredded carrot would make a nice addition for some added crunch. Or maybe some nuts? But the pesto has such flavor and the lettuce adds a bit of crunch, you don’t really need to worry about adding anything else if you don’t want to. Serve with a side of fruit or another cool salad. These would be perfect to take along on a picnic, to the beach, or a short hike this summer.

Reminisce we did that evening, as we were with Chris ten years ago when she celebrated another milestone birthday. This year’s party was more intimate, but I admit, more fun. We celebrated until the temperature broke and then made our way home in the cool of the evening.

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Fresh Basil and Garlic Scape Pesto

One of my culinary versions of perfect deliciousness is garlic, lots of it, basil, and olive oil: pesto. I regularly make this in the summertime, either in the blender or by hand. Pesto in Italian means “to pound,” so on occasion I try the old school method with a mortar and pestle, but usually revert to the blender, as it’s a lot easier and quicker! You can serve it on warm pasta, over grilled veggies or meat, in soups and salads, or with fresh bread, any place you want a little oomph to the dish you’re cooking. The only thing I have to remember is to not get too close to people the next morning; while I’ll be keeping away the warlocks and bugs with my garlic breath, I might also be keeping away other humans!

I made this the other night and thought I had died and gone to heaven. Admittedly, I put in a little too much garlic, even for me, but it was still peppery, spicy, and delicious. I had a couple of garlic scapes I bought at the farmer’s market, added that to mix this time, along with the basil, chopped garlic, olive oil, and cheese. (Garlic scapes are the tops of garlic bulbs, that come up in June or so. Be sure to use the scape below the little bulb, the very top can be discarded. They are a milder flavor than their counterpart, a little tough, but good! Try them in the recipe or in a stir fry for a little bit of garlic flavor.) If I have it on hand, I’ll also add a small handful of parsley. I’ve also made the same recipe with cilantro in place of the basil. I was skeptical at first, but it too is delicious.

When I have an overflow of basil and garlic in August, I make batches of pesto and freeze it for later use. Placed in tiny containers with plastic wrap on top to ward off freezer burn, opening one of these in the middle of January is like a breath of summer and is a gentle reminder of what we can look forward to in a mere six months.

As with many of dishes I make, this one I make up as I go along, depending on what I have on hand. So, here goes:

Fresh Basil and Garlic Scape Pesto
• About 2 cups fresh basil
• 2-3 cloves of fresh garlic, coarsely chopped
• 2 garlic scapes, chopped
• 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, almonds, or walnuts (optional)
• About 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
• About 1/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

With the blender on “chop,” add the basil through the chute. Add the chopped garlic and scapes, cleaning the sides of the blender as you go along. Add the nuts, if using. With the blender whirring, gently add the olive oil. Add the cheese, then make sure everything is well mixed before adding to your dish.