Today is August 1. In the earth based religions, today is Lammas, the first harvest at the height of summer.* Herbs and tomatoes reach their peak right about now. If you’re looking for a great way to use them, something suitable for a feast, or just want something yummy on your pasta, fish, chicken, scrambled eggs, or bruschetta, try pesto.
“Pesto” means “pounded.” It’s a close relative to “pestle” as in “mortar and…” Once upon a time before food processors and blenders the cook put the herbs, nuts, cheese, and oil into a mortar and pounded away until they created a paste-like substance. Now it’s just a matter of loading everything into a food processor and pressing a button.
My food processor’s been busy this summer thanks to the productivity of the basil, enabling me to make several batches already. I use Patricia Wells’ pistou formula from her book Bistro Cooking as a blueprint:
2 cups basil leaves, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 large garlic cloves cut in half, 1/2 cup Parmesan. Put everything in the food processor, pulse it a couple of times to get the party started, and let it rip until it makes a paste.
This is classic pesto, or pistou in French. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, feel free to improvise. Since pine nuts involve a trip to the Italian market and run on the exorbitant side, I use almond meal or walnuts. No basil? No problem. Try cilantro. Or (I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud) kale. Yes, kale. The chef at my favorite lunch/tea/coffee makes pesto with it. He uses it on flatbreads and in his grilled cheese sandwiches. It plays nicely with its colleagues (read: not bitter and stringy ) in that application.
If you want to do something different, try pesto Trapenese. It includes tomatoes for a Sicilian spin. I haven’t tried it myself, but might just be giving this variation courtesy of Lidia Bastianich a try very soon.
With a basic formula and seasonal ingredients, the pesto-bilities are endless. (Well, someone had to say it…)
*For readers celebrating Lammas, brightest of bright blessings from me and Oakley. May this be a day of abundance and joy for you and whomever joins your celebration.