Southern Pesto

00:00 October 24, 2011
By: 2Fik

There are still watermelon and cantaloupe vines tumbling outside of the confines of my raised beds (with a few ripening melons on them) and an eggplant that refuses to stop producing. There is also an heirloom variety of red okra that I don't have the heart to pull out - even though the plant takes up a lot of space and I only like okra when I'm in the mood to, and have enough to pickle it. The plant itself is just too striking and pretty to get rid of: the tall red stems produce creamy yellow flowers with burgundy centers that resemble hollyhocks (a relative). So, since I'm in no hurry to embrace the changing seasons in my garden, and I have the space and luxury to continue to enjoy my summer vegetables, I only gradually start to think about what will take their place.

Eventually, when I get restless and want to make room for the antioxidant-rich super foods like kale, broccoli, and root vegetables that can grow when the summer fruits and vegetables can't, I will tear out all those heat-loving plants. But there is one plant in the veggie garden that gets to stay until the very end of warm weather when frost threatens: basil.

Basil seems to grow in my yard happily all summer with little to no care. Sometimes I don't cut the flowers off and the plant simply reseeds and by the end of summer I have a second generation of plants to enjoy. Also, the bees really enjoy the flowers, and I am reluctant to pinch off any flower that attracts them.

This year, I got a basil bonanza from Mizell Farms (who sells plants at the Crescent City Farmer's Markets). Each spring, he seems to bring out some new variety that I've never heard of that I must find a place for. This year there was Thai, Cinnamon, Lemon, the traditional Genovese, and even a blueberry basil - each with it's own distinct flavor.

I simply cannot bear a garden without basil, so to compensate for this, I wait until October or November, then pull the entire plant, and have a pesto-making extravaganza in the kitchen. Nearly every available surface in the kitchen gets covered in greenery and my aged food processor gets put to task. I end up eating a lot of pesto, and freezing some and giving some away, and living with the spicy-cinnamon-y smell that lingers on my fingers for days from plucking all those leaves.

The best part about my pesto is that it is distinctive - not only do I use the different varieties of basil, but I also substitute non-traditional pesto ingredients for some more commonly found in our area at this time of year. Instead of buying pine nuts that came from China, I use pecans from nearby Mississippi. Their sweet flavor balances exceptionally well with the spiciness of the Thai and Genovese Basils and the intensity of the raw garlic. I'm lucky enough to use garlic that came from last spring's crop in my vegetable garden.


Southern Pesto

Ingredients

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup pecans
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (just a personal preference - Parmesan works great too)
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice


Directions
Combine the basil, garlic, and pecans in the food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the oil in a slow, steady stream while the machine is running and process until fully incorporated and smooth.

If using immediately, add the cheese and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and add salt and pepper to taste. Add lemon juice on top. If freezing, don't add cheese - it will make the pesto take on a stale, freezer taste. Instead, transfer pesto to an air-tight liner and drizzle a thin layer of oil over the top. Freeze for up to three months. Stir in cheese when thawed and enjoy!

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