Gardening

First summer pesto

Food writer, Beth Dooley offers a trio of pesto recipes in The Northern Heartland Kitchen: More than 200 recipes to satisfy appetites. Her traditional basil version of this “pounded sauce” is a favorite at our house.

As reported earlier, this summer’s basil crop is the best we have ever grown and a quick cutting this morning yielded five individual servings of fresh pesto – one for tonight’s 3-cheese tortellini and four for the freezer; so good when the cold winds blow and summer basil is only a fragrant memory. 

Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!

Gardening

Backdoor garden

The potted herbs clustered around the backdoor are mid-summer hearty and offer a veritable Pantone spectrum from dusty silver sage to vibrant Genovese basil – my version of “50 shades of green.” 

The basil crop is the best I have ever grown although, as to what might be different, I cannot claim credit as a variety of factors are equal – bought at same greenhouse as previous years, planted in the large Italian terracotta pot that formerly held a St. Thomas, V.I. lime tree from Dad, and tucked under the wind chimes on the left side of the doorway.  Every day with easy morning sun and cool afternoon shade.  

In an attempt to capture the lazy summer day in a jar, this morning’s task included harvesting and drying fresh basil.  Great for aromatic hearty winter stews or tasty marinara sauce garnished pasta.

Happy Gardening and Bon Appétit!

PS – Ever the librarian, my backdoor crop in alpha order:  basil, bay leaf, dill, nasturtiums (although technically not an herb but an edible flower – both leaf and blossom), oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and thyme.

Gardening

Pesto with thoughts of Genoa – no actually Madison

a large bunch of fresh garlic bulbs with roots and stems on a red metal background
Our garlic harvest – August 2017

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!

Gardening

First Planting

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: 

4 tomato plants and 3 basil plants in square foot garden
Tender tomato & basil plants
  • 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.