Tag Archives: basil

Prepping for Pesto


For many years I’ve wanted to purchase the BIG olive oil.  But I could never really justify it.  Until now!

With five family members and a garden full of green stuff, it’s finally time for the big olive oil at our house.  This week I bought it in anticipation of making pesto.  While the basil in my garden isn’t quite ready to be picked yet, the arugula is going gangbusters and with the upcoming hot forecast it’s destined to bolt soon.

Since I was prepped for pesto-making, it was easy to throw together some arugula walnut pesto for my freezer this morning in between other household chores.

I’m at a point where I don’t use a recipe, but if you are looking for a starting point here are some measurements:

4 cups packed arugula leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

Start food processor and drop in garlic cloves.  Once chopped, turn off processor, add arugula, walnuts, salt and pepper.  Process a bit, then while leaving processor on, stream in olive oil slowly.  Continue processing until it reaches a nice saucy consistency.

I do not put cheese in pesto I intend to freeze.  It’s nicer to add the cheese later when using the pesto.  That way the cheese is fresh and I can customize the amount depending on how I’m using the pesto.

Pesto freezes nicely in small serving size containers.

Many sources will tell you to freeze pesto in ice-cube trays.   If this works for you, fine.  But I find that it’s hard to remove them from the trays and it makes my ice-cube trays smell like pesto.  Not good when I need to chill my lemonade.  The serving size containers are so much easier to work with.  They sell small and even very small sizes of these containers, perfect for pesto.  I will never go back to the ice-cube tray method again.  (Just thought you’d like to know!)

Pesto can be pricey.  To save money it’s possible to substitute a more affordable nut, as I did with my arugula pesto.  The traditional pesto nut is a pine nut.  These are delicious and I do use them, especially with a basil pesto.  But it’s fun to experiment with other nuts and the results are almost always delicious.

I also save money by adding cheese later.  Sometimes I don’t even add cheese since it’s yummy without.  Or I will just put cheese over a dish made with pesto, such as sprinkled over pasta or a pizza made with pesto sauce.  Don’t try to save money by using the green can of Parmesan in pesto.  Always use a real wedge of cheese (domestic is fine, imported is divine) and grate it yourself.

And of course, the number one money-saver idea I can offer is to grow your ingredients yourself.  Basil (and arugula) are very easy to grow in a backyard garden or in pots.  You can grow a large amount and really stock up the freezer for the winter.  Parsley, mint and cilantro can also be used for making pesto…. each has its own unique flavor.

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Photos from the last week of July.


Colorful peppers. These are the Chinese Five Color, but apparently we are only going to get purple ones. They are lovely though!

Beans hang from their vine, ready for pickin'.

A look at my monster cherry tomatoes through the trellis.

Rose of Sharon puts on a nice show.

My attempt at growing the Three Sisters--corn, beans, squash--has been semi-successful. Very few corn survived my planting conditions and children trampling on them.

The first eggplant begins to take shape.

I put the chair there to show the enormity of these cherry tomato plants. From left to right: Tommy Toe, Black Cherry, Sun Gold. These are in regular potting mix--no added plant food of any kind. I believe they like the heat that radiates off the house.

It's been perfect weather for basil, which means pesto is for dinner tonight!

Garden to Table: Chickpea Salad & Sweet-Sour Coleslaw


It’s the second to last day of March (a month that was more lion than lamb) and I’m kicking off my Garden to Table series with two delicious side dishes.  I have, in fact, harvested some parsley and basil from my indoor garden.  While they are a drop in the bucket of what will inevitably be an herb filled growing season, they are so very welcome!  I’m thrilled to share this dish with you as it is absolutely delicious. 

Simple and delicious.

Bon Appetit readers will recognize this recipe from the most current issue of the magazine, April 2011.  I couldn’t resist such a simple but satisfying example of how even the most meager use of fresh herbs can dress up something like a chickpea in way that makes it sing.

Basil leaves of the bush basil plant I started in February.

Parsley, plants are still small but there are enough leaves to add flavor to this dish.

Who knew chickpeas could be so satisfying? Notice how the fresh herbs punctuate this dish.

 

Here is where you can find the chickpea recipe:  Chickpea Salad with Lemon, Parmesan and Fresh Herbs.

The second item I used today from my garden was carrots.  Carrots?  In March?  Why, yes.  It’s a fact that carrots, if stored properly, can remain sweet, crispy and fresh for months… in this case half a year.  I only had a few left so I shredded them and put them into a crunchy Asian style coleslaw.  I learned to make this coleslaw using a Betty Crocker cookbook.  It works every time, even when I’m missing an ingredient here or there.  Today I was short the green pepper, so I just left that out.

Carrots harvested in September become March's coleslaw.

These two side dishes will be served tonight alongside some grilled Italian sausages.  It’s pretty cold outside–mid-30’s!–but that doesn’t stop a true Wisconsinite from grilling sausages.  It wouldn’t stop me from grilling veggies either! 

There’s no reason a gardener can’t infuse dishes with homegrown goodness year round.  It requires planning, but not so much to be an inconvenience.  And sometimes serendipity plays a role as well.  Things just fall into place once in a while and an ingredient presents itself at just the right time.  (I didn’t remember I had those carrots!  But I was sure happy to find them this morning when trying to figure out what to do with half of a cabbage.)

Since Betty doesn’t share her coleslaw recipe online, I’ve typed it out for you here.  It’s so good!

Sweet-and-Sour Coleslaw
Betty Crocker’s Cookbook Bridal Edition 2001

1/2 medium head cabbage, finely shredded (4 cups)
1 large carrot, finely shredded (1 cup)
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped (1 cup)
4 medium green onions, thinly sliced (1/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine, white vinegar or cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Place cabbage, carrot, bell pepper and onions in large glass or plastic bowl.
2. Shake remaining ingredients in tightly covered container.  Pour over vegetables; stir.  Cover and refrigerate at least 3 hours, stirring several times, until chilled.  Serve with slotted spoon.  Store covered in refrigerator.

Happy Cooking!  And don’t be shy if you have recipes or ideas to share throughout the season.  I welcome links to recipes in the comments area or at my Twitter account @AGraciousGarden.

A February Kind of Project


Inspired by the salad mixes I’ve seen in the grocery store lately, I thought I might try to grow some herbs indoors to add to salad greens.  I especially like some cilantro thrown in to a salad, and since I use parsley and basil weekly anyway, they seemed like nice additions too.

My initial idea was to plant them in the cans I had leftover from my recent mega batch of chili.  Then, over the weekend while perusing a magazine, I saw this:

Herb-in-a-Can project on the pages of this month's Birds and Blooms.

Well, I guess someone else had the same idea.  At least I know it works!

And so I’ve recruited my kids to help.  Here is our herb project in photos:

Empty cans are a nice size for growing some herbs.

Not pictured is my husband using some sort of power tool to make drainage holes in the cans.  It’s important to provide a place for water to drain out of, and into.  Once these cans are planted, they will be put on a tray with pebbles or marbles underneath them to allow for proper drainage.

Next, let your child play with the cans. (This step is optional!)

 

We filled the cans with a soiless seeding mix.

Prepared for the mess, I covered our workspace in newspaper.

Cans are filled with mix, water is added and then some more mix to fill. Sure glad I put the newspaper down!

 

Seeds selected for this project: parsley, cilantro and bush basil.

We labeled the cans before we put the seeds in, just to be safe!

My son sprinkles the seeds on, we then cover lightly with the soiless mix.

Finally, the seeds are given a spritz of water.

Ready to germinate.

My next step will be to add the pebbles to this tray, then stash it in the bathroom until the seeds germinate.  Wait–did I just say the bathroom?  Indeed!  It’s the warmest room in our house and we always take advantage of the heat in there to germinate our seeds.  I do not have to use heat mats or grow lights to start seeds.  Bonus: the emerging seedlings LOVE the steam from the shower.

I’ll be sure to keep readers posted on this project!

Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Time


What a difference a year makes.  The span of time between putting my first herb seedlings into a freshly filled raised bed and harvesting from second year plants is relatively brief–just over one year.  But for an herb, that one year makes the difference between infancy and adulthood.
In spring of 2009, I recruited my husband to build a raised bed to be used specifically for herbs.  Only 18 inches wide, it’s easily accessed from either side, and herbs have room to spill over the sides if necessary.  It also provides a nice border for the small patio garden where most of my garden grows.

Newly built raised bed with seedlings.

 

In 2009, I planted parsley, chives, dill, sage, rosemary, thyme, lavender, oregano and basil in the raised bed.  All grew, though some did better than others.  The rosemary never grew taller than six inches, and remained thin.   The dill did fine for a few weeks but seemed to go to seed very quickly, and since I did not sow a second or third crop we didn’t have any by the time other veggies were ready to harvest.

Overall, I was pleased with the abundance of parsley, chives, sage, lavender and oregano.  That summer I came to know the herb garden and all of it’s smells and flavors.

First year herb garden mid-season.

But it was the following year in which the herb garden really came into it’s own.  Early spring saw chives shooting up through the snow.  Soon after, tiny green leaves began to grow on what looked like dead wood of thyme, oregano, sage and lavender. 

Rosemary and parsley did not survive the winter.  It’s just as well.  I found a new spot in the bed for the parsley and moved rosemary to a pot where it has been much happier.  Now the rosemary can come inside with me for the winter and be used in winter soups and sauces.

Potted rosemary can live indoors or out.

Year two was one of pruning back.  The sage became huge, almost tree-like in the way it became thick and woody, stems reaching all over the place.  Chives needed constant cutting.  In fact, by the end of the season I removed three plants, knowing I wouldn’t need them next year.  This could free up space for something new.

The best part of the herbs’ second year was the beautiful flowers.  All edible, all beautiful.  And they attracted the most interesting insects and butterflies to our garden.  I can’t wait till next year when the flower show begins again.

Herb garden, year two. Basil in nearby container.

Lavender flowers delighted us all season.

A sea of herbs.

I wonder what the herb garden will look like in its’ third year?  Will it overgrow its small space?  Will plants come back just as healthy?  Will I need to replant anything?  I especially wonder about that parsley.  Biennial, it should come back this spring if conditions are right.

Time will tell how the herb garden will grow.  After two years with it, I know this: I’ll never have a home without an herb garden again.  Herbs brighten up our food, look and smell great in the garden and are a conversation piece for guests to our home.  They attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  My kids can’t help but grab an herb and munch on it while they play outside.  We’ve come to appreciate our herb garden more than we could have imagined when we first set out.  I simply love my herb garden.

Time Traveling Food


My siblings and I have often joked about the many mysterious foil packages in my mother’s freezer.  Big ones, tiny ones and every size in between.  Some labeled cryptically while others given elaborate labels complete with dates.  We have never been sure of Mom’s system, but we know it always involves foil and somehow–for her–it works.  My brother coined the phrase “time traveling food” to describe the meals that magically appear, having not been seen for months, now piping hot and served as if Mom had just made them.

Now I’m a mom, and a woman with a deep freeze.  And being a gardener, sending my food on a journey through time just makes sense.  After all, when there are bushels of basil ready to be picked it has to have somewhere to go.  I send it to my freezer, neatly packaged as pesto in serving size containers, labeled and ready for December’s pizza or January’s spaghetti.

Being a sensory person, my senses are thrilled each and every time I open one of my time traveling pestos.  The sweet smell of summer!  It’s here!  It’s here any day of the year, any time I want it… I can smell it, I can taste it, I can see the verdant green that hasn’t been seen in living color outside my window in months.  It is always at this moment–the moment of initial inhalation–that I question why in the world I didn’t grow double the basil and make double the pesto!?

Oh well, I will just have to ration the supply. 

Because in a few months I’ll be up to my ears in basil again and thinking where in the world am I going to put all of this!?

Angela's basil of 2010, now residing in the deep freeze!