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Posts Tagged ‘pesto’

Well, it’s high time I revived this blog. Way past high time, really. I have spent far too many months feeling way too busy to craft something as complete and complex as an actual post. So I’m going to try a different tack, and write really short little notes – just a few minutes’ commitment – and see if that creates a little life here on this page. Because sometimes doing something half-assed IS better than not doing it at all.

So until I can get some more current photos of my chickens and finish describing all 5 of the girls – who are now laying beautiful eggs – I’m going to write about the only other food- and garden-related topic that I can think of at this time of year: the contents of my freezer. Riveting, I know.

I’m sure we all have equally pathetic freezers at any time of year, but I really did try to take a step in the direction of being a good urban homesteader last fall and preserve/freeze/put up some food from the garden before the growing season was over for good. Here’s approximately what I managed to accomplish:

Dried: some tarragon (I hung it upside down as they tell you to, in the garage – a nice dark, dry place. I don’t actually know if it’s still there, or if it’s since crumbled to green dust. I also froze tarragon so if I really needed any, I’d go for the frozen stuff first anyway).

Stored: some god-awfully ugly, gigantic, not totally ripe Green Striped Cushaw heirloom squash. These guys are huge. I wouldn’t know how to get started on one. I grabbed one really small one, about the size of an average butternut squash, with the idea that I’d make some soup or something. When I cut it open, it really didn’t look ripe – too pale – so now the rest of them are just sitting there in the garage, serving as doorstops for my car. I know when I’ve pulled in far enough when my tire hits the big squash on the floor. I’m hoping they’ll make good chicken food.

Frozen: here’s where I actually got a bit of something done.

I chopped basil and froze it in little ice cube trays. Those are the most useful thing EVER. When I need fresh basil for a recipe, I just pop a cube out and toss it in. I was anal enough about this to ensure, during the prep process, that each cube equaled 1 Tablespoon of chopped basil. It’s awesome. Forget the dried stuff – I just need to do a bunch more trays of this next year. I did the same thing with parsley and oregano. All I have left right now is oregano. Apparently one uses far less of that in soup recipes.

I shredded zucchini and froze it in bags of 2 cups each. For those moments mid-winter when you really just want to make zucchini bread. I envisioned such a moment last fall; it hasn’t happened yet, but with the zukes being about the only green thing left in the freezer, it’s going to have to happen.

I made and froze several little containers of regular and walnut pesto. Yum. This stuff is so amazing; it makes a dinner into something special. Curiously, I still have one container left. One more special dinner. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

When I realized we’d never keep up by eating it fresh, I finally capitulated and chopped, blanched and froze several cups of collard greens and swiss chard. Again, I froze these in bags measuring 2 cups of greens each for ease of adding to recipes. What a lifesaving idea. I’ve used them for quiche, stir-fries and on the side of scrambled fresh-from-the-garden eggs. With baked beans of course. Now it’s January and unfortunately, all the greens are gone. They were just so good. Next year: more of this.

A couple of containers of roasted tomatillo salsa verde. This too has the magical ability to transport you back to summertime and the garden bounty with a single punchy bite. It gets lots of raves from people stopping by for a drink in Tomas’ living room bar – a convenient quick snack to have around.

And that is all of it. Everything else seemed too sacrilegious to cook, or freeze, or otherwise alter, when it had just come out of the garden fresh. Or when it was still growing there, green and beautiful. We slowly ate all the last tomatoes – they lived on the counter for weeks – and I just blew it when it came to saving all the basil, parsley, and greens. A lot of that froze (outside – argh!) or fell prey to the marauding chickens once the garden was mostly deconstructed and they were given free rein in the yard.

Wow, that was so not just a short little note! One can wax on about pretty much anything, I guess, when it’s cold enough outside. (10 degrees now, if you really want to know).

The moral of the story, as I see it, is that there’s room in the freezer for a lot more bags of greens, trays of basil cubes, pints of pesto, and many more such ideas. These are the ingredients you CRAVE when the dark days of winter are at their worst. They remind you that there is life out there. There are long days of sunshine, rich moist soil and healthy, homegrown plants that are willing to give, and give, and give. Enough for you to eat it all fresh AND put up as much as you can get around to. Next year.

Last year's basil in the garden - an open invitation (or is it a challenge?)

Last year's basil in the garden - an open invitation (or is it a challenge?)

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Basil is beyond bountiful again in my garden. Last time (just a few weeks ago) I managed to chop up and freeze a good-sized load of it in ice cube trays. I found out that if I really pack the cubes, I get a tablespoon of basil into each square. Perfect quantities for soups or sauces, when the occasion arises. I also made a batch of the incredible maple-basil balsamic vinaigrette that I can’t stop eating. Stuff like that seems too good to also be good for you.

Here’s something else that’s good for you. I decided to whip up a batch of pesto this time, since it’s the only way to reliably use up decent quantities of basil. In my eagerness to harvest the best of my herbs, however, I picked far too many and as a result I made two batches – it worked out to 3 generous cups, or one for the week and two for the freezer. Naturally, the first has already been polished off tidily. This recipe – which substitutes easier-to-find, superfood walnuts for the expensive pine nuts – is adapted from Biba’s Italian Kitchen – perhaps a sign of my renewed obsession with all things Italian, at least culinarily speaking. (I made her recipe for potato gnocchi the other day too, but that’s another, very lumpy, story). In terms of ratios of ingredients, pesto recipes run the gamut. This one seems to me to have the right balance of basil, oil, nuts, garlic and cheese. I did omit the salt on the second round though – there was plenty of it in the parmesan cheese.

Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I went for a little less to keep the consistency thicker)

1/3 cup shelled, chopped walnuts (since I was using a food processor, I sort of skipped the chopping part and just filled the cup a bit more to compensate for the size of the nuts)

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl in between as needed. Set aside or refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

I found that “sealing” the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil before storing in the fridge or freezer helps prevent the rapid discoloration that happens once basil is cut and exposed to light. My batches came out a bit more than a cup each. Not that I’m complaining about ending up with more pesto than predicted.

Mangia!

 

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