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.
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!