Things are growing and looking lively here at the Spy Farm. There is a tomato that is at least the size of a regulation ping pong ball. The “Giant” sunflower crop in the raised bed needs to be thinned – the plants are just about two inches tall now. The mint cuttings salvaged from the Kentucky Derby juleps have just started to root in a jar on the kitchen windowsill. Basil is busting out in three containers. It’s time to harvest.
There is nothing springier than a bowl of bright and verdant pesto sauce. Pesto is made with pine nuts, basil, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. It is best homemade. Do not waste your hard-earned money on a store-bought jar of the stuff. Who knows what goes in there? A quick troll of Amazon reveals that Classico Pesto Sauce contains: “Basil, Soybean Oil, Garlic, Parmesan Cheese (Cultured Part-Skim Milk, Salt, Enzymes), Olive Oil, Salt, Contains 2% or Less of: Spice, Lactic Acid, Citric Acid, Water, Natural Flavor.” Where is the garlic? How good is the cheese? Did someone lovingly harvest the tender green basil leaves wielding a judicious pair of Fiskars shears? Were the leaves torn by hand? These are serious cultural issues.
We are boringly predictable and put pesto sauce on penne pasta. But that should not restrict you. Pesto is divine as a pizza topping, on warm, crusty French bread, and even on grilled cheese: https://ohsweetbasil.com/sun-dried-tomato-bacon-pesto-grilled-cheese/.
Make a lot of pesto to keep on hand for emergencies: it freezes well. I made a big batch of pesto sauce on Sunday for a penne pasta entrée, and there was enough leftover to provide fragrant side dishes this week. There is nothing like having useful leftovers. And garlic breath all week long.
The great Alice Waters has a lovely array of spring and summer pastas. We are working our way through her Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza & Calzone cookbook. Chez Panisse has been the leader of the farm-to-table movement. Whatever is growing local and ripe is what will be lovingly served. We do not grow asparagus on the Spy Farm, but we do patronize a couple of local growers. Look at some of these Chez Panisse springtime recipes: Asparagus & Artichoke Heart Pasta; White Asparagus, Brown Butter, Parmesan, & Fettucine; Pasta with Peas, Spinach, & Prosciutto. https://www.finecooking.com/article/asparagus-pasta-chez-panisse-style
I also love tossing basil into a green salad. It livens up the bowl of ordinary grocery store greens. We use a homemade vinaigrette most nights.
A generous pinch of Maldon salt
Garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (Mr. Sanders prefers his dressing without mustard. Sigh.)
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
8 tablespoons olive oil
A pinch of black pepper
1. Use a fork to smash the salt into the garlic. Add mustard and vinegar, and whisk until blended.
2. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking continuously.
3. Add black pepper.
I use a glass bottle that originally held salad dressing from Aldi, so it has a pleasing European silhouette that I do not mind seeing on the table. Our pesto has five ingredients, the vinaigrette has six. Our emergency bottle of Ken’s Steak House Greek Dressing has listed more ingredients (in 5 point Arial Condensed, all caps) than I can possible count. The top eight are: water, vegetable oil (soybean and/or canola), apple cider vinegar, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, salt… Garlic isn’t listed until the fourth line. I’m sticking with homemade.
Get outside. Wear your mask to make other people feel comfortable. Get your hands dirty. Plant some sunflower seeds. Root some mint. Bring home a basil plant from the farmers’ market. Eat some salad. Don’t forget the garlic.
“Many people eat salad dutifully because they feel it is good for them, but more enlightened types eat it happily because it is good.”
– Laurie Colwin