The property I live on is a little over one half of an acre in size, much of it is tree covered and that is exactly why I bought it. Prior to moving here, Andrew and I lived on 5 acres of land in Richmond, and I did not want to move from what seemed like living in the woods to a traditional neighborhood. I have plenty of privacy, the property is boarded by two utility easements and in the summer, I can not see any other houses from my front or back porch. The only drawback to living in the woods is that much of the property is shaded and will not support a garden.
I’ve never had a garden before. Frequent moves, parenting my child alone while working full time and attending graduate school, and too much civic involvement prohibited me from having a garden. If I were to be very honest though, I would have to admit that I’ve never been a gardener. If I had truly wanted fresh vegetables, I am sure I would have found a way. My sister Liz and brother in law Eddie, have a plot in a community garden near their home. I am sure I could have done the same if I’d been motivated.
But I never was … until I fell in love with Basil.
I think that love affair began at Sal’s Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria in Radford (http://www.salsrestaurants.com/radford/welcome). My favorite antipasto is their Alla Capresa – fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, drenched in garlic and olive oil, and basil – and lots of fresh bread with which to dredge up the garlic saturated olive oil. (The picture that follows is not one that I took and it is not from Sal’s menu).
I soon realized that I had to have this amazing deliciousness much more often than I could afford, either calorically or financially, to get from Sal’s. Thanks to good friends like Cindy, Liz and Kate, all of whom have amazing gardens, I was able to come home with a ziplock baggie full of basil leaves every so often and I began to make my own version of Alla Capresa. Soon, the occasional ziplock baggie was just not enough.
So I bought a basil plant to put outside on my patio. Two things kept it from growing well. One is the aforementioned lack of sun and two is the abundance of wildlife. Whether it was by ground hogs or rabbits, the plant was nibbled on frequently, it looked pitiful and only offered a few leaves, certainly not enough to keep up with my needs. I too was an impediment. I learned that the way I was pulling the leaves off the plant was keeping it from growing well and producing more leaves.
This year I have been in basil heaven! I bought two nice plants at a nursery in Floyd County and put a small fence around them to discourage the critters. Once Kate taught me how to correctly pick the leaves, I have had a steady source to feed my need. In addition to my own two little plants, Kate and Bob gave me a container garden for my birthday, complete with a Basil, Parsley and Tomato plant! I have mothered these plants all summer and thoroughly enjoyed it, all the while gladly accepting those baggies full from Kate.
Almost every day this summer, I have taken my version of a caprese salad to work with me. I forgo the garlic for the sake of my patients, and substitute it with plenty of pepper and a bit of salt. And when I haven’t denuded the plants too badly, I make pesto. I eat pesto on pasta, and use it in a wonderful baked chicken dish. I freeze pesto to add to soups (or to thaw and eat with sandwiches) and I add it to my tomato and mozarella for dinner. Kalyn’s Kitchen has been a great resource for preparing, cooking with and freezing basil (http://www.kalynskitchen.com/).
Recently, Donna really stepped up my game by bringing me her basil plant! After spending the summer in SWVA it was time for her to head back home to Florida and she decided I was the perfect adoptive parent for the large plant pictured below. It is truly gorgeous! Beautiful in color with huge leaves, just waiting for my eager hands to pluck.
So tonight, in anticipation of having my niece and nephew over for dinner on Thursday, I made pesto. I washed and laid the leaves out to dry.
While waiting for the leaves to finish drying, I lightly toasted some hazelnuts. I’ve used pine nuts in the past but in addition to having none in the house, they are far too pricey. I was out of walnuts, but did have a choice of hazelnuts, pecans and almonds in the cabinet. A little online searching revealed that others have used hazelnuts, so I decided to do the same.
A few cloves of garlic, a good bit of parmesan cheese, some salt and pepper, lots of olive oil, and I was ready for the food processor.
The wine? Self-explanatory!
Mine is just not as pretty as Kalyn’s … but the taste is good and it sure makes me happy.
I’m a far better baker than I am a cook and I am definitely one who needs to follow a recipe. I wish I had more of a gift for cooking, like my mother and many of my friends, but the end product still tastes pretty darn good to me. Just put a little more olive oil on some angel hair pasta, add some pesto, pour another glass of wine and enjoy.