Sunday, August 26, 2012

I Lied - or - The Summer of Pesto, Part 2

The day after I wrote The Summer of Pesto post, I went out and purchased this bad boy--

A girl can only resist a 20% off Bed Bath & Beyond coupon for so long.  My triceps will still get a workout, as I'm working the PULSE button instead of just being lazy and pushing ON.   And my pesto production has more than doubled!  It's all good!

And I admit, I am still tweaking the recipe.  Instead of Romano, I've started using a blend of Romano and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  What's the difference between regular old Parmesan and Parmigiano-Reggiano?  Glad you asked.  A cheese cannot be called Parmigiano-Reggiano unless it is made using a specific recipe and production method within the provinces of Parma, Reggio-Emilia, Modena, and specific regions in the provinces of Bologna and Mantua. (Not from Wikipedia, but still from the internet, so it has to be true.)  All I know is that it is much more flavorful than regular ol' Parmesan and is well worth the extra money. 

Since I am freezing 90% of what I make, I decided to bust a container out of the freezer last night for dinner, to see if all of this harvesting, chopping and processing was for naught.  It was from an earlier batch, one made without the help of my beloved Cuisinart.  I put it on whole wheat cheese tortellini and added sun dried tomatoes.  I was not disappointed. 

So today, I have made 3 batches.  As much as I hate wasting the wonderful basil still left in the garden, I think I have to stop making pesto for this year.  Or buy that freezer.  

Friday, August 24, 2012

There is a Cicada in my Sink

A large insect the size of a small aircraft carrier flew in the house last night when I let the dogs out. My stomach clenched into a huge knot as I watched it bounce off the walls and windows of the kitchen. I thought it was a June bug – a freakishly large beetle that would fry for 5 whole minutes when caught in my parent’s bug zapper when I was a kid.

There are few things I loathe - and am more horrified by - than bugs.

The bug settled someplace in the kitchen (EW! GAG! ACK!) by the time I let the dogs back in the house. I was in no mood or condition to find and do battle with that monster at 10:30pm.  It was already well past my bedtime. And of course, John was out of town. Every time something bad happens, he’s gone. It’s like he has a sixth sense about impending household doom. So I did what any normal person would do in that situation – I gathered the pugs and went to bed, shutting the bedroom door behind me. I locked it too. I’m not kidding.

I woke up around 3:00 after having a nightmare.  It was like I was trapped inside a 1960's Japanese movie.  They could make a moth look menacing, so just imagine what my June bug was like.

This morning, I had to empty and reload the dishwasher. Every move I made was very careful and calculated. I was ready for that thing to come out of nowhere, fully aware of the fact that I would COMPLETELY FREAK OUT when it finally decide to attack. I lifted a colander from one side of the sink and saw it – not a June bug, but a cicada!!! A CICADA!!! Within the walls of my house!!!!! A June bug is bad enough, but a cicada invading the sanctuary of your home is just downright traumatizing.

It fluttered around in the sink. I screamed, dropped the colander on one of the dogs and it clanged around on the floor – sending all three of us into a complete tizzy. My plan was to stay out of the kitchen until the thing died and/or John came home and got rid of it. (Note to self:  Could be a new diet fad – get a monster insect to keep you away from your potato chips.) But there is a plastic drying mat in that side of the sink, (which will be sterilized or pitched as soon as that menace is removed) and I decided to take action. The cicada came to rest in the drain stopper. I boldly pushed the mat over the drain stopper and trapped it. Maybe. Hopefully. Now I’m not sure. That thing is so big, I’m sure it could fly around with the mat clutched in its talons.

I was even bold enough to take this photo. John texted me just when I was about to take the photo and the sound of the notification startled me so bad my arms got tingly.

See it?  Yes, I did zoom in, and yes, I did crop this photo. Doing both has made me a little queasy. There was no way I would ever willingly get that close to such a beast - what am I, nuts?

Don't answer that.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Summer of Pesto

It seems that for the last few summers, I must have "a thing" - something that I latch onto with a fervor unequaled to anything else during the season.  I will do this "thing" over and over again until it is perfected. 

I blame credit my friend Kris for this obsessive/compulsive behavior.  One summer she set out to find the ultimate sangria recipe, and I decided to do the same.  I'm pretty sure she found hers, but perfection eluded me.  Believe me - it wasn't for lack of trying. I forced more sangria on people that summer than all others combined.  (Side note:  John made sangria for the two of us earlier this summer - just threw it together with no recipe at all - and it was spectacular.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, but kept thinking about how unfair it was that he was such a talented sangria maker upon his very first attempt.)

Then there was the summer of the mojito.  Lime and mint sales skyrocketed in central Illinois!  I have to say, I nailed that one.  I even started making them by the pitcher for gatherings because they are so labor intensive.

Last summer it was margaritas.

Wait.  I'm starting to notice a trend...

This summer is different.  2012 will forever be known in our household as The Summer of Pesto.

Since moving to a place that has the perfect spot for an herb garden, I was determined to have one.  I even started them from seed - and they grew.  Some of you might assume that once you put a seed in the ground it will grow.  Not me.  I have a rather brown thumb when it comes to plants.  So you can imagine my delight at seeing little sprouts grow into real herbs.  I now have a bumper crop of thyme, oregano, tarragon, parsley, chives, and basil.

I've harvested some, freezing them in chicken stock or olive oil.  "Fresh" herbs for soup and stews in the middle of February... Oh baby.

I've never made pesto sauce before this summer because it requires a ridiculous amount of basil - 5 packed cups. I now have all the basil I could possibly use, but was still hesitant to make it.  All recipes call for the use of a food processor and I don't own a real one.  All I have is a little manual thing I got from Pampered Chef.  It looks like this, and it only holds 3 cups.  5 cups of basil along with other ingredients in a 3 cup chopper.  Do the math.
But then I thought, "Pesto has been around longer than food processors!  Little old Italian women have been making it for hundreds of years and they didn't have one either!"  They used a marble mortar and wooden pestle.  (I looked it up on Wikipedia, so it has to be true.)  If they could do it, I could too.  It would take longer to do it in small batches, but doable.  I'm saving $150 by not buying an electric food processor that I'll only use a few times a year and my triceps get a work out.  Win- win.

After only 3 batches, I'm proud to say that I've found the perfect pesto.  I've blended a few recipes to get to this:

The Perfect Pesto
1/4 C walnuts, lightly toasted (toasting is key for the nuts - gives them a richer flavor)
1/4 C pine nuts, lightly toasted
3 T chopped garlic
5 C washed basil leaves, packed
1 t kosher salt
1 t freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 C good, robust olive oil
1 C freshly grated Romano (or Parmesan, but I like Romano)
1 t lemon zest
few drops freshly squeezed lemon juice

If you have a food processor, you can chop everything up in that (first the nuts, then add the basil, oil...).  If you don't or have something goofy like I do, finely chop the nuts and basil as best you can.  I do it in three or 4 small batches and then hand stir everything together.  Note:  Air is NOT pesto's friend.  Put it in containers that seal well with as little air as possible. 

The next thing will be discovering all the ways to use pesto.  Bad photo, but when mixed with pasta and chicken, it's really yummy - my favorite so far.

I'm told it freezes well.  I certainly hope so.  After paying almost $5 for 1/2 cup packages of pine nuts at the grocery store, I found this bad boy at Costco for under $20.

Yeah...  We're gonna need a bigger freezer.