I’ve been thinking lately, that one of the areas where we Americans are a bit deficient is in the art of the celebration. Seriously… I mean look at the Italians! They have festivals and parties for everything! There is the Festa del Mare (festival of the sea) in Liguria, the Festa dei Candelieri in Sardinia, where the men dressed in traditional Sardinian costumes dance in the streets of Sassari with giant candlesticks on their shoulders, a white truffle festival in Alba—I assume there must be a black truffle festa somewhere else—and the Chocolate festival in Perugia (just take me there and leave me!), to name only a smattering. Oh, and don’t forget the Sagra di’Pinolo – The Pine Nut Festival!!
They have celebrations for every food, drink, historical event, music and type of art, as well as feasts for every saint that ever lived.
Even Shakespeare’s Juliet gets a day of merrymaking in the town of Verona, to commemorate her birthday.
I think they’re on to something. Life is brief and uncertain at best, so why not celebrate as many of the little things as possible? Really celebrate!! Just because something is small or ordinary doesn’t mean we can’t make a party out of it.
So this week, since its summer, which, if you live in the Pacific Northwest is reason enough to celebrate, I am taking a lesson from the Italians and having a few festas of my own!
I started with figs. Yes, you read that correctly, figs. My very first fig crop from the trees I planted four years ago is ripening this week, and I am ELATED! They are plump, tender, juicy little bundles of pink sweetness. And the glass of Artisanal Wine Cellars Dovetail that I had in my hand when I bit into the first one was the perfect thing to elevate a simple piece of fruit to celebratory status! Also very fitting, since the pretty little ring-neck doves like to hang out in the fig trees.
I brought in the sweet onions and garlic with much fanfare and gratitude, piling the onions prettily in a basket and putting the garlic in a beautiful braid.
And today I am celebrating the basil. I can’t even begin to say how much I love basil! I love every facet of that little green treasure—the seed that I order from Italy; the first tiny round leaves poking up in their flats in the greenhouse; planting them out into the garden; wrapping a sun-warm cherry tomato in a just-plucked basil leaf and popping it in my mouth as I wander by the sunflowers—but most of all, I love that from basil comes…pesto!
And since I have already rambled on far too long, what follows now is my favorite recipe for pesto, from Marcella Hazan’s* “The Classic Italian Cookbook”, my copy of which is so well worn and loved—it’s been in steady use since I bought it in 1977—that it automatically falls open to the pesto recipe.
And thanks for coming to visit me…
(From The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan)
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with a heavy knife handle and peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Roman pecorino cheese**
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
1. Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, and salt in the blender (or food processor~and yes, I’ve even made it the traditional way with a mortar and pestle~and mix at high speed. Stop from time to time and scrape the ingredients down toward the bottom of the blender cup with a rubber spatula.
2. When the ingredients are evenly blended, pour into a bowl and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand. (This is not much work, and it results in more interesting texture and better flavor than you get when you mix in the cheese in the blender.) When the cheese has been evenly incorporated into the ingredients, beat in the softened butter.
3. Before spooning the pesto over the pasta, add to it a tablespoon or so of the hot water in which the pasta has boiled.
NOTE: The quantity of basil in most recipes in given in terms of whole leaves. American basil, however, varies greatly in leaf sizes. There are small, medium, and very large leaves, and they all pack differently in the measuring cup. For the sake of accurate measurement, I suggest that you tear all but the tiniest leaves into two or more small pieces. Be gentle, so as not to crush the basil. This would discolor it and waste the first, fresh droplets of juice.
Making Pesto for the Freezer
1. Mix all of the ingredients in the blender as directed in step 1 of the above recipe, WITHOUT the cheese and butter. You can then spoon it into a jar to freeze, or, I prefer to spread it in a thin layer on a baking sheet lined with wax paper or plastic wrap, freeze it quickly, and then break it into pieces and store in a zip-lock freezer bag. That method makes it easier to grab just the amount I need for a soup, sauce, or to use as a rub for roasting meats.
2. Thaw just before using. When it’s completely thawed, beat in the grated cheeses and butter called for in step 2 of the Blender Pesto recipe.
*Marcella Hazan…now there’s a woman who deserves a festival of her own!
**You can use all parmesan in a pinch, and still have a pesto that turns out beautifully