Yearning :: {green pesto}

A typical summer evening in 1984.
When you've lived in more than one place, you always miss the other place when you're not there.  And when you're there, you miss the first place.  I can't think of a time where I've felt such a distinct emptiness, a hole that I know can be filled by being in that first place. That picture up there is where I spent my first six years, playing amongst the lines of drying laundry in the sheep pasture, cooling off in cow fountains, eating purple clover in the meadow, going with my brother to collect the evening milk in our pale green bucket with the red wooden handle, our mother skimming the cream off the top.  The cream tasted like the wildflowers I would gather by the armful everyday. 

One summer evening, when the hills made undulating shadows fall across the meadow, I followed our cat into the apple orchard.  My back toward the house and my face toward the darkening forest, I imagined myself an orphan, miles from home, following this cat as my guide.  I trudged up the hill behind him, the breeze quickening, and a tingle of danger swirling around my insides. The cat leapt up a tree and I huddled at its base, ready to sleep there. I started wondering how cold it would get in the night, if the cat would leave without me, if....and just when my imagination started to get the best of me, I turned around to the winking lights of the farmhouse, and saw the outline of my brother against the lights, swinging the milk bucket in his hands.  "Phe," he shouted, breaking my reverie, "Mama says it's time for dinner."

I know the yearning has gotten especially poignant because I want to share this with my daughter.  I want her to see cows and sheep and wide open spaces everyday.  I want her swimming pool to be a fountain in a pasture, and I want to feed her cream that tastes like flowers.

A word about my cooking, since this is the first food post (from here on out consider yourself warned): I don't follow recipes, and therefore I'm not going to be able to tell you in tablespoons and pounds how much of anything goes into anything.  All you have to do is pay attention to what you're doing, and think about what you're doing, the flavors, the textures, etc., and you'll be fine.  Really being present when you cook is what makes it so enjoyable and rewarding, anyway.  Enjoy this part of your day.

Green Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta and Zucchini

Think about pesto this way: you know how in the winter you use up all the odds and ends in your fridge in a big pot of soup?  What vegetable soup is to winter, pesto is to summer.  Think beyond the basil, parm, pine nut version and use (almost) whatever's in your fridge.  Throw some vegetables in the pasta pot like the Italians do.  Is there a better reason for doing anything?

{Serves at least one adult and a toddler.  Easily doubles/triples.}

Put your big pot of pasta water on to boil.  Salt it.

Now make your pesto.  I had some spinach that I needed to use up, and I have a huge shrub of neglected basil in a pot by my kitchen door. You'll need three generous handfuls of green stuff. Rinse it and toss it in your food processor/hand blender cup/mortar and pestle. Don't worry about drying it off because the water actually makes it nice and creamy. We'll add more water later, in fact. When you're selecting your greens, keep your flavors and pungency in mind. Mint, for example, is delicious in pesto, but you'll want it at about a 1:2 or 3 ratio to something else, like arugula, or even peas.  Now throw in a couple cloves of garlic.  I used two small ones.  Next come nuts.  I used a handful of pistachios.  I've also used walnuts to great effect.  I never use pine nuts because I'd rather spend that amount of money on wine.  This line of thinking stops when it comes to Parmesan, though.  Don't bother with anything but the real thing.  If you don't have/want Parmigiano Reggiano, then by all means try something else in your pesto.  Feta would be delicious with the arugula and mint version we were talking about earlier.  You'll need a big handful of cheese, whatever it is.  Add several healthy glugs of olive oil, just enough to get your blades moving through all your ingredients.  Now if your pesto seems dry, add some more olive oil.  Leave it just a bit dry, though, so that we can add some of the pasta water at the end.  The pasta water is the trick.  Taste and add salt if you need it and pepper if you want it.

Your water should be boiling right now.  Add about third of a box of your pasta of choice.  I like the corkscrews because they catch a lot of the pesto.  Some Italians also put a cut up potato or two and green beans in the water to cook with the pasta.  I didn't have either of those things, so I grated half of a medium zucchini which I added raw when I tossed everything together.  Don't overcook your pasta.

Before you drain the pot, get a ladle and add a splash of the pasta water to your pesto.  Give it another pulse to bring everything together.

Toss your pasta and veggies (now would be the time to add raw stuff, like the zucchini I did, or tomatoes would be great, too) with the pesto.  You can serve this with extra cheese on top, or not.

Big fork, little fork.