I wonder about the origins of pesto. Don’t you, in the quiet corners of the night, when perhaps a large cricket hidden underneath your bed starts chirping and wakes you, and then continues to make his infernal racket to the point where you not only cannot go back to sleep but can’t even have a peaceful thought. . . don’t you wonder about the origins of pesto?
Who first thought about taking these aromatic basil leaves, for example, and crushing them into a paste with garlic and parmesan cheese and lemon juice and then emulsifying the mixture with olive oil? Was it a desperate housewife in ancient Rome, perhaps, who, while cleaning up her garden, found a late basil plant tangled up in the weeds? Maybe she plucked a handful of the leaves and brought them to her nose, breathing in that wonderful scent, thinking about all the meals she prepared with them that summer. Dormice with roasted vegetables and herbs. Salted fish with basil and cheese. Yum.
But it’s the end of the month, and her stores are low. Opening the kitchen cabinet, she finds only a few edibles–a swig of olive oil, a remnant of a parmesan cheese, a lemon. Maybe a few nuts. She wonders what on earth she could do with such paltry stores, to feed her family: her children due home from Roman school any minute, and her good husband from his work on the Aquaducts. She looks down at the handful of basil leaves in her hand. She heaves the 5 o’clock sigh of housewives ’round the world. Then she sees the mortar and pestle sitting close by. She gets an idea. She brightens.
I can see it.
She mashes the few things together, and then whips olive oil into the mixture until she likes the way it looks, adding some salt and pepper, tasting and smiling. It’s tasty. Then perhaps she adds the paste to some ordinary roasted vegetables, making an extraordinarily delicious meal out of a few simple ingredients. Voila! She is indeed a clever woman, and the world will never be the same.
Pesto is born.
This idea, I love. I love simple food with exquisite tastes, and this recipe for basil cashew pesto surely does fill that bill. It’s a very versatile sauce, and can be the very best friend of the oft-harried and always-well-meaning and usually-tired and severely-overbooked housefrau. Or even you, say. Or me. Just picture it. You have an over abundance of basil in your garden right now. It’s so good on lots of things, and you’re going to dry some for later, and you’ll make some delicious tomato and egg dishes with it, and you’ll position it decorously on every pizza you bake until frost, but what will you do with the rest? You hate to let it go to waste. You could just toss it to the chickens, but heck–they’ll eat anything green, why should you waste the beautiful basil on them? Much as you love them. And you do.
Here’s what you’ll do with it, Gentle Reader. You’ll make pesto. Lots of delicious pesto, and you’ll stick it into the freezer for later meals. You can smear it on toast and put juicy heirloom tomatoes on it for a quick lunch. You can mix it with hot pasta for a delicious quick meal. You can add it to your macaroni and cheese. You can schmear it on your grilled cheese sammages. Every time you eat it, you’ll think of your lovely summer garden, and all that fresh basil you were so smart to plant. You can stir it into hot roasted vegetables, and your family will say “Yum. Pesto. Mom, you are the most amazing thing.”
They will gaze at you in delight for preparing something so delicious just for them. And maybe (more importantly) they’ll insist on washing the dishes, while you put up your feet and read your latest issue of
The Roman Times People Magazine.
See? Now you’ve got to make it.
Here’s the recipe. Make plenty, and then freeze it for later. I’m freezing mine this year in half-pints and also in ice cube trays, because
I saw that on a blog I’m smart that way. 🙂
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup cashews, roasted for 5 minutes (risky business: try not to burn them)
- 3 cloves fresh garlic, roughly chopped
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp coarse black pepper
- 1 cup olive oil
- Put all ingredients into your blender container. Pulse to mash. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, adding a bit more if necessary, while blending. Eat right away, or freeze for later in jars or ice cube trays. Once trays are frozen, pop cubes out and put into freezer bags. Smart you. Lucky family of smart you!
Well done, you! Once you’ve made your pesto, you can get creative about how you’ll use it. Enjoy!
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- June Recap
- Well done, Helen.