This is no small feat for someone like me, whose thoughts leap to grand visions of of growing fresh herbs, the minute our long Maine winter begins to melt into spring. My enthusiasm carries me all the way from careful planning, purchasing and re-potting, to feeding and watering . . . for the first couple of weeks. Then something inevitably happens — a heat wave, too many late nights at work, an impromptu 3-day mini-vacation — and the next thing I know, my herbs are crunchy, yellow, sad— and unrevivable. Money, effort and herb dreams, down the proverbial drain.
This year is different. I recently moved and have a nice little deck off my kitchen and dining room. I can actually SEE the herb containers through the glass door as I work on my laptop or load the dishwasher. One minute the cilantro is happy and basking in the sunshine, the next — it’s drooping with heat exhaustion. Because the glass door is only five feet away, it’s been easy to monitor the plants’ appearance, and immediately administer hydration before the sun permanently scorches the life out of it. Apparently, it’s best to treat plants like small children and animals — not like plastic lawn ornaments. I’m finally learning.
So now that I have plenty of basil, my thoughts move on to reaping the rewards: Pesto! In researching what kind of pesto I wanted to make, I was torn between using traditional pinenuts or walnuts, and I was also very curious about a recipe that featured spinach instead of basil.
In my typical can’t-leave-well-enough-alone Maine Foodie Finds fashion, I wondered how it might turn out if I used some of each. Spinach is one of the healthiest vegetables you can eat, and walnuts are super high in omega-3s and antioxidants, so any opportunity to include them in a recipe is a bonus in my book.
Some people keep it simple and throw the raw nuts into the food processor; I decided to toast mine. It only takes a few minutes and I think it is worth it. I also blanched the basil and spinach, to retain the bright green color of the leaves.
Once the pesto was made, I drizzled it over a delicious spinach tortellini from Trader Joe’s. Fantastic! Fresh-tasting comfort food, without a lot of guilt. I suggest making a batch and freezing the pesto in ice cube trays, for an effortless meal when unexpected guests pop in. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Bon Appétit!
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
1/4 pinenuts, toasted
1 1/4 cups of fresh baby spinach leaves, well washed and stemmed
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Toast the pinenuts on medium heat, watching very closely to avoid burning (this can happen quickly!), and immediately move to a small bowl. Toast the walnuts next (it will take a bit longer) and add to the pinenuts and set aside.
To blanch the basil and spinach, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Get a large bowl of ice water ready, with a colander inside, set on ice.
Stir the spinach into boiling water. Cook until wilted, about 30 seconds. Transfer to the ice bath to cool, then squeeze dry and set aside. Once spinach is blanched, repeat with basil, but boil for only 10 seconds.
Place pinenuts and walnuts into a food processor, and begin to process. Add spinach, basil, parmesan, garlic, salt, pepper, lemon zest and olive oil. Blend until smooth. Air is the enemy of fresh pesto, so if you are going to store the pesto in the fridge to use another day, place in a container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil before adding the lid.
Now — What if you have lots of basil, but it’s just too hot to use the stove? Try this simple and delicious Insalata Caprese for lunch or dinner.
3 vine ripened tomatoes, sliced
3/4 lb. fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
16 fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Arrange tomato, mozzerella and basil in a circle on a salad plate. Drizzle with olive oil. Add freshly ground salt and pepper to taste. Voilà! What could be easier?