Presto, it's pesto! Just emptying the fridge can be magic
IS IT possible to overdose on basil? I've been eating at least 10 raw leaves per day from the thriving basil plants in our windowsill flower box.
Basil tastes way better now that I live on the East Coast, where it doesn't grow outdoors year-round. I greedily devour margherita pizzas, even ones with a few measly leaves of basil per slice. Thai curries have been a pretty reliable basil source, but now we have the plants.
Now I just gobble down raw leaves as a breath freshener, we chop up great bales of it to put on delivery pizza and Leonard makes pesto. The fresh basil smells better than many air fresheners.
Not to be Basil Exposition from "Austin Powers" here, but the sky-high window basil in our apartment is a mere shadow of the garden Leonard kept in his San Francisco backyard. Basil and tomatoes defied him by playing dead, but we got some rhubarb, pumpkins, artichokes, green beans, spinach, garlic and potatoes out of his constant labors.
Leonard used the garden as a trick to get himself to exercise. His hours of plantings, weedings, waterings and harvests yielded about five meals' worth of food. But he still remembers sharing those green beans with our neighbors. And that yard went from dead gray dirt, where not even weeds grew, to a beautiful green/brown
My mom gardened everywhere she lived, too. I remember the flowers best.
All our houses smelled of jasmine — Leonard included a jasmine vine in our backyard to make me happy. But she always made sure to grow one herb: Tulsi, or "holy basil." We ate it and we used it in Hindu ceremonies. No wonder I latched onto its cousin, the sweet basil that we usually mean when we say "basil."
Leonard calls me a basilosaurus. (Yes, that was a real dinosaur.) But he's the one who's written several paragraphs demystifying pesto and encouraging you to make it.
Over to you, Leonard:
"I made pesto on a whim without ever having made it before and it was great. I made it out of less-than-fresh basil and it was great. I made 'Panic Pesto' out of whatever vaguely relevant ingredients I had lying around, and it was great. It's hard to screw up pesto.
"To make pesto, you combine basil, nuts, cheese and garlic in a food processor, then, with the food processor on, drizzle in olive oil until the mixture becomes semi-liquid. There should be a lot of basil, the same amount of nuts as cheese and garlic to taste.
"You can add pepper if you want. I wouldn't add salt if I were you. There's plenty of salt in the cheese.
"You can make pesto with any kind of nut. I made Panic Pesto from half pine nuts and half walnuts.
"Panic Pesto was made of one-quarter Parmesan and three-quarters Jarlsberg fondue leftovers. If Jarlsberg works, then any white hard or semi-soft cheese should work. Maybe bleu cheese would work. Maybe even cheddar would work.
"I have only ever made pesto with basil, because both Sumana and I are crazy about basil. But you could make it with parsley instead, or spinach, or anything that's leafy and green with some flavor. You could even make mint pesto, though I wouldn't put it on pasta.
"Just put whatever you want in pesto. Make it with walnut oil. Substitute some other aromatic for garlic. Make hummus instead. You could probably come up with a combination that is awful, but my feeling is you'd have to ignore some other common-sense rule of cooking to do it."
"I made pesto on a whim without ever having made it before, and it was great. I made it out of less-than-fresh basil, and it was great. I made 'Panic Pesto' out of whatever vaguely relevant ingredients I had lying around, and it was great. It's hard to screw up pesto."
Leonard, Sumana's husband
Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.