Five Reasons to Love Korean FoodOctober 11, 2011
Book Review: Folks, This Ain’t NormalOctober 25, 2011
Though I am thrilled that it’s finally feeling like autumn, there is at least one thing about summer’s steamy days that I am sad to see go: the reliable supply of fresh veggies and herbs that flourished in my parents’ small backyard garden. It’s kind of incredible what a tiny plot of land can produce, even in the middle of NYC’s concrete jungle.
Yesterday, Mom and I decided that the time had come to snip the leaves off of the basil plants and make batches of our version of pesto.
Every fall, she and I repeat the same mantra: “Let’s not forget to harvest the basil before the first frost”—or as Mom would say, “Tenemos que recoger el basil antes de que se freez-eh.” (Yes, my mother, father, and I speak Spanglish, and as ridiculous as it sounds, she—and I—would actually say “el basil” and “freez-eh,” which is neither an English nor a Spanish word.) And yet, almost every fall, we act too late. Since I generally visit my folks on Sundays, that first overly cool night of autumn often sneaks up on us, zapping the aromatic but delicate leaves before we’ve had the chance to harvest them. Though we’ve always managed to salvage some of it, this year we were determined to strike pre-emptively and haul in the full bounty.
I refer to the end-product as “our version” of pesto, because we don’t follow the classic recipe. Mom and I both regularly make something we call machacada (literally “a crushed or ground-up mixture”), consisting of parsley, garlic, and olive oil blended in a food processor and topped off with about a half-inch layer of olive oil. There are glass jars full of the stuff in our respective refrigerators, and we reach for it whenever we want to season meat or fish, sauté or roast vegetables, or generally punch up the flavor of a savory dish. (It’s also great on toast.)
Mom isn’t used to cooking with basil (she usually grows it for my benefit only—did I mention she’s an awesome mother?), so this year I’ve turned her on to a new kind of machacada, replacing the parsley in our typical recipe with basil. When I make it in my own kitchen, I generally add walnuts or almonds, but I decided to keep her batch simple. And since she doesn’t do well with dairy, we omitted the cheese. (In my own version, I also leave it out, which allows me to add the machacada to a wider variety of dishes. If I’m tossing it with pasta, I simply add freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmiggiano to the portion of machacada that I am about to use. It’s also better to avoid adding the cheese if you’re going to be freezing the mixture for future use.)
If you know your way around a kitchen, you can certainly handle making pesto without my help, so these photos aren’t meant to be instructional. I just wanted to share with you the emerald beauty of this fragrant herb. (It’s really too bad that the folks at Apple have yet to invent an aroma-vision iPhone app because only then could you fully appreciate how wonderful the kitchen smelled when I was done.)
See you next summer, dear basil…
One of four very fertile basil plants that Mom cultivated.
The peeled garlic goes in first.
Part of our harvest, in the salad spinner.
The frothy mixture. (Normally, I’d blend it in a food processor, but the one my folks have is tiny, so I opted for the blender instead.)
A spoonful of the final product.