another wonderful weekend in vermont, another successful trip to the farmers’ market to procure an abundance of delicious vegetables, and another round of recipes to help you enjoy what the summer garden has to offer!
since i won’t be in vermont again for a few weeks, i thought this would be a good time to share some recipes that allow you to savor the fresh, intense flavor of seasonal vegetables even when you can’t eat them all right away–or if you just want them to last a little longer. first on the list this week is pesto. fresh garlic is piled high at the farmers’ market, basil is looking and smelling vibrant and delicious, and i know that in a few months i will be sorely missing these fresh goodies. pesto is the legendary sauce from liguria, on the italian riviera, that combines the pungent tastes of basil and garlic with the smooth flavors of parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. my family’s version is less of a sauce and more of a spread, since we like to cram it as full as possible of all the yummy ingredients. it still works perfectly on pasta, but it’s also an excellent topper for sandwiches and omelettes. or you can eat it right out of the jar to keep the vampires away! even better, it is easy to make and lasts for several weeks in the fridge and even longer when frozen.
there are many variations of pesto. some use arugula or other spicy greens instead of basil, and sometimes different nuts take the place of the pignoli. the recipe below is the product of years of tinkering by my mother and me, experimenting with different amounts of all the ingredients, and testing the results on friends and family. we are all head over heels in love with this pesto in my family. we make a new batch almost every weekend during the summer, and at the end of august we make a massive batch intended to last us a few months into the fall. in this spirit, i invite you to try the recipe below, and then try out some experiments of your own! you will be happy you did come october, when you can open your freezer to find a jar still bursting with the freshness of summer.
makes 4 cups
5 large bunches basil, washed and dried, then de-stemmed (i find it easiest to wash and dry the basil in bunches, hanging them to dry, before removing the leaves from the stems)
1/2 cup whole garlic cloves (a word of caution, my family likes a lot of garlic. if you like a little less garlic in your food, feel free to decrease this quantity. otherwise, just make anyone you plan on kissing later eat the pesto too!)
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup walnuts
1 cup olive oil
1. put the garlic in a food processor and mince finely.
2. add the basil, parmesan, nuts, and olive oil.
3. pulse for about 10 1-second pulses. then taste and adjust ingredients as needed. repeat this step until you are happy with the balance of flavors, then pulse until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.
4. pour a thin coating of olive oil into the bottom of a glass jar. spoon the pesto in, pausing frequently to tamp down the pesto in the jar to eliminate air pockets. when the jar is full, top with a thin coating of olive oil.
5. after each use, a thin coating of olive oil will prevent the remaining pesto from browning from exposure to oxygen. however, if it does brown, this will not affect the taste or the quality of the pesto.
6. enjoy your pesto in the fridge for about 3 weeks, or freeze it for use later in the year.
once your pesto is made, it’s time to start considering how you are going to eat it. the simplest option is spooned over a steaming plate of pasta, with a little extra parmesan sprinkled on top. raise the bar a bit with a trick i learned in santa margherita, italy – plate your pasta with half pesto and half fresh marinara sauce (since tomatoes are worth gorging on while they are at their flavorful, seasonal peak). the richness of the pesto is offset beautifully by the sweet acidity of the tomatoes.
another option, if you are looking for a satisfying lunch after a morning of summer activity, is one of my favorites – the “vermont sandwich,” so-called because i created it over many such lunches at my family’s house. it’s healthy, filling, healthy, crunchy, creamy, and delicious. and it’s filled with all the veggies, protein, and whole-grain carbs you need to head back out to the garden, golf course, pool, or anywhere else your summer takes you!
4 slices of the grainiest bread you can find (i love orchard hill breadworks’ dense spelt loaf, but any bread you love will do)
4 slices of your favorite cheese (i usually use our local vermont shepherd’s semi-hard cheese)
2-3 tbsp pesto, depending on the size of your sandwich
2 small handfuls of greens (i like a combination of lettuce, arugula, basil and/or any spicy asian greens that may be growing in our garden)
2 thick slices of tomato (preferably heirloom, for their succulent flavor)
salt & pepper to taste
1. fry the eggs in a small amount of butter or olive oil until cooked to your liking (i like over-easy eggs so that the yolk oozes over the whole sandwich, but that’s definitely the messy option). you can even beat the eggs first and cook small omelets for a much neater sandwich.
2. while the eggs are frying, toast the bread.
3. once the bread is toasted, first spread half the pesto on each bottom slice. then add the tomato, greens, cheese, and one fried egg (with the white folded as needed to fit on the bread), and season to taste. top with the second slice of bread, grab a few napkins, and open wide!
asian greens: refers to greens such as tatsoi, bok choi, mustard greens, mizuna, shiso, and many others that are delicious raw while they are young and tender.