When basil has gone to seed: contemplative pesto
We are growing three kinds of basil in our garden: “regular” basil, purple basil, and Magic Mountain basil. The regular basil and Magic Mountain basil have been thriving quite a bit; the purple basil, less so, as it is growing at the base of the regular basil plant. But the other two, my goodness. The regular old basil was going to seed, though, much to the chagrin of my partner. I’d promised for weeks on end to do something with all that basil, as the stems grew woodier, and as the flowers turned from brilliant white to the brown of kraft paper. Meanwhile, the Magic Mountain basil also grew tall and bushy, went to flower, but only because that’s what it’s supposed to do.
I’ve been reading Edward Espe Brown’s No Recipe: Cooking as Spiritual Practice, slowly, after picking it up on a personal retreat a few weeks ago. I have found it to help ground me in the practice of cooking, something I love to do when I have time (as I do right now, in the midst of time off from work), but loathe when I’m too busy. Standing outside, next to our raised bed, with garden shears in hand, I finally felt myself reconnect back to these lush and marvelous green and purple wonders growing in our raised beds. I felt the sunlight envelop me, and I saw how absolutely blissful the pollinators were amidst our basil plants: not just bees, but spiders, ants, and other bugs, too. And with all that basil, there’s but one thing to do: make lots and lots of pesto.
One of the things I’ve learned over time is that there’s no wrong way to make a pesto. Yes, there are wrong ways to make pistou, or pesto alla genovese, but that’s beside the point. With a good blender or food processor, you can do just about anything. With a mortar and pestle, it’s harder but you can appreciate the effort. But you don’t need a recipe to make pesto. Sure, there are proportions you have to get “right,” but that’s all a matter of preference, too. So here’s a recipe, lovingly imprecise, in the spirit of Ed Brown, based on how I make it. It might or might not work. It’s up to you to figure it out.
- about four parts green stuff (herbs, greens, arugula, carrot tops, what have you)
- one part fat (oil, lard, butter i guess)
- one to one and a half parts umami/textural stuff (shredded hard cheese, nuts, breadcrumbs, maybe some dried mushrooms if you wanna get wild)
- some alliums (garlic if you’re a traditionalist, could get wild with some scapes or shallots)
Chop how you’d like, as much as you’d like. Mix it together in some kind of bowl or vessel. Add salt, pepper, or anything else you like. Taste it; if you don’t like it, add what feels like it might be missing. If you make a lot, stick some in the freezer as a nice surprise. If you want to make a spread out of it, add some yogurt, or sour cream, or coconut milk.