As I prepped this morning’s basil harvest for the second batch of summer pesto, I smiled and remembered the first time I had this savory concoction. It was summer 1977. I was in library school and a friend who was in town for a library association meeting had offered to treat this poor grad student to dinner. We met at Helen C. White Hall, wandered over to Memorial Union, spent time on the Terrace before strolling up one side of State Street and then back. Reaching the small second floor storefront Italian restaurant where we had dinner required trudging up narrow wooden stairs. (This was long before ADA required accessibility. It was a restaurant Dad hated when I took him there not because of the food but because he worried about exits – or the lack thereof. But that’s another story.)
My friend was quite excited with the chef’s pasta du jour which featured fresh pesto on tortellini. I had no idea what pesto was but as I did not want to appear anything less than sophisticated, I ordered the same entrée. I remember my surprise when I was served a dish far more green than pasta white; heavy on the garlic. For this first sampling, it was a good there was a nice red wine accompanying our meal.
Despite growing up with big vegetable gardens at my house and my grandparents, basil and garlic were simply not things we grew. From my narrow culinary perspective at the time, basil and garlic were dried herbs from McCormick; used infrequently, mostly just for Aunt Thelma’s spaghetti sauce. But now, basil graces pots just outside the back door for quick access and grows in the tomato squares as a companion plant. While we do not have garlic growing this summer, we have harvested splendid crops in years past. With a nod to food writer Beth Dooley and author of our well used The Northern Heartland Kitchen cookbook, we will fully enjoy this batch of savory almond basil pesto. Bon appétit!
The excitement over my first, post vaccination day trip to St. Paul in April and lunch out with a friend in a restaurant which followed strict (and therefore reassuring) COVID protocols, slipped into what can only be dubbed COVID malaise. While our neighbors have been in their yard for weeks, adding raised beds and planting, I can only claim a minimalist effort having helped Richard turn over the six, 4×4 foot vegetable squares, sans seeds or seedlings. While the chilly temps and night time frost advisories offered the cover of an excuse, I simply lacked my annual dose of springtime, get-in-the-dirt time enthusiasm.
But then, Michelle inspired me. During last night’s A Late Show with Stephen Colbert, our former First Lady offered her heartfelt comments about coping with pandemic anxieties. I took her words to heart: “… push beyond … just the doing gets you out of the funk.” After stops at two green houses for healthy plants and an assortment of vegetable seeds, we spent the afternoon planting. Today’s in the ground tally of various varieties includes:
Cucumber – 6
Tomato – 5
Basil – 5
Pepper – 4
Zucchini – 2
Kale – 1
Tomorrow’s goal (assuming the rain holds off): Potatoes, beets, lettuce, radishes, beans, nasturtiums, and a flavorful collection of potted herbs: more basil, plus dill, leeks, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme. Michelle was right – “just the doing” was the prescription I needed.
This morning’s harvest. Our six 4-foot squares (definitely not filled to capacity ala Mel Bartholomew’s methodology) are keeping us in fresh vegetables. Add to that the pots of herbs on the screened porch and we have freezer stashes of freshly simmered marinara sauce and zucchini chocolate chip bread to enjoy in the chilly months.
With an abundance of gorgeous basil and two batches of pesto already in the freezer, I began exploring new possibilities. These Lemon Basil Cookies featured crushed pistachios for a different culinary experience