‘Tis the season for pesto, and it’s a wonderful, easy-to-make dish. It contains only four basic ingredients: fresh basil, garlic, Romano or Parmesan cheese, olive oil, and nuts (and salt and pepper to taste). I was using pine nuts, but when they got to $20 a pound, I switched to walnuts. It tastes great too.
We grow a lot of basil every year, 20 or more plants this year. You can grow it in large pots if you don’t have space for a vegetable garden. But this year, if you haven’t grown basil, visit your local farm stand. For my recipe, you will need 2 cups packed basil leaves.
If you plant your basil, hopefully it hasn’t started to fall off (it’s getting taller and flowering). It will still be usable even if that happens, but it’s tastier before that happens. Remove any flowers that have appeared and cut flowers from other plants that you did not harvest today. The bloom makes basil a bit bitter.
Wash the basil and dry it in a salad spinner if you have one. Remove the leaves from the stems and dry the leaves with a cloth towel. You need enough basil to fill two tightly packed cups of leaves, which is a lot of leaves.
Place the leaves in a food processor, add ⅓ to ½ cup of toasted walnuts or pine nuts, and pulse several times. I roast raw nuts in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. They brown better if you lightly oil the pan. But be careful, it can burn easily, so stay there, stirring constantly, until it browns. I find roasting improves the flavor greatly.
Next, prepare the garlic. You can use a large or small amount depending on how much you like raw garlic. Crush three large cloves or six small cloves of garlic in a garlic press, add them to the blender and grind them. I grow garlic myself but you can buy it if you don’t. Hard neck garlic is more flavorful than soft neck garlic – order it from a farm stand, as grocery stores don’t tend to sell it.
Slowly add a third to a half cup of olive oil, with the food processor running. Mix the ingredients until the leaves, nuts and garlic are completely combined. Finally, add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan or Romano cheese and mix until well combined. Savor it instantly on a toasted baguette or English muffin. This is heaven.
This has not been a stellar year for tomatoes. Rain and scarcity of sun have caused many tomatoes to develop fungal diseases. Fortunately, one of my favorites did a good job. It is called the Golden Sun. It is a cherry tomato that is not only delicious, but also relatively productive and disease resistant. I grow dozens of plants each year, and each plant gives me 100 or more tomatoes. They grow in groups of 10 to 20, and produce from early to late season.
I dry most of my Sun Golds, but I also like them fresh in salads, sandwiches, or cut in half and mixed with pesto. When I put them in the food dehydrator, I cut them in half with the cut side facing up. They turn into little nuggets in the summer that I use all winter long in soups and stews.
Pesto is also good with homemade boiled potatoes. I serve it as a potato salad with fresh tomatoes and a little celery. Yes, after giving up celery years ago, I grew celery this year and it did well with all the rain. Although they have been tough, stringy, and attracted slugs in the past, they have had the pleasure of growing this year. I don’t harvest them all at once, I go to the garden and cut what I need for that day. The stalks are much smaller than commercial celery, but I’m glad I grew it.
I believe the world would be a better place if every child learned to farm, and learned the joy of eating fresh vegetables. You can teach your children or grandchildren to love gardening like my family did: Welcome kids into the garden, offer them meaningful jobs that are easy and fun, and never leave them alone to weed. Let the little ones ride a wheelbarrow over the pile of weeds you’ve pulled.
One of my first jobs in the garden was stirring Grumpy’s “tea” in a wooden barrel filled with rainwater and chicken manure. She stood on an apple crate and moved it with a long stick. It was a messy, somewhat unpleasant job, but it seemed like real work for a 3-year-old. Eventually, I was allowed to steep the tea in a metal frozen orange juice can, and give each tomato plant a whole can. I’ve been hooked on gardening ever since.
Gardening should really be for everyone, so ask your little ones to spend time with you in the garden, even if they’re just looking for frogs and bugs or pushing trucks.
Henry Homer is a lifelong organic gardener in Cornish, New Hampshire. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.