Friday, June 26, 2009

Pounding Pesto

As much as I love to read, every once in a while I fall into a slump. I finish a book can't decide what to read next. The second I start waffling between one novel and another, it's just a matter of time before I descend into ambivalence. What's the point? There are so many books to read. Might as well not bother, I'll never get to them all.

I get into cooking slumps too, but they're different. This time it's for a few reasons: I've been away from it for too long (I didn't cook at all for 3 weeks). When I got home, I had too much work to do. Kids were coming home from trips. Kids were leaving for trips. Visitors, planned and unplanned (but very welcome!) were coming and going. You get the picture.

And it's finally summer! Most people love to cook in the summer--all that fruit to make into pies and ice cream. I mainly love to eat in the summer. I buy the cherries at the market thinking I could make a pie, or a half-flat of strawberries for ice cream. I have the best intentions.

But then I get home and look at the bowl of cherries and baskets of strawberries, and all I really want to do is eat them as is. As much as I love pie and ice cream, a bowl of strawberries with a little sugar is pretty hard to beat.

A couple of nights ago I climbed out of my slump. And discovered the perfect cure for a cooking slump: pesto. I followed the basic recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables: a few garlic cloves, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 2 cups basil leaves, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1/2 cup grated parmesan.

If you're trying to break out of a slump, or if you have a lot on your mind, don't use a blender or food processor. Make it in the mortar and pestle.

With a mortar and pestle you get a beautiful, shaggy pesto (mine was very shaggy). And the pounding! First you watch as the garlic and nuts turn to paste, then the basil leaves get pulverized. By the time you finish the slow additions of oil and basil, and stir in the cheese, you just might find you're arm is a little tired, but you've also let go of a lot of worries.

You do have to be careful when you add the oil. I was so in the flow that I poured in a little oil, then happily pounded down my pestle--here's oil in your eye!

For dinner I put on a pot of water and roasted some new potatoes. Once the water boiled, I quickly cooked some green beans, then the pasta. Tossed the whole mess (potatoes, beans, pasts) with the pesto, and called it good.

I think everyone else agreed.

Oh--and I'm getting out of the reading slump too. Jane Austen's good for that--Persuasion.

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