Monday, September 25, 2006

WHB: Celebrating A Year Of Herbal Fun

Happy First Anniversary!

A year ago this week Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen, one of my very favorite food bloggers, started an event that surprised her with its popularity when she joked to Cate of Sweetnicks that she didn't have a dog or a cat, but maybe she could share a photo of her plants. Well, the idea caught on; food bloggers joined in and it has been going strong and growing stronger with each passing week.

Kalyn has decided to celebrate the first anniversary of WHB, being held Sept. 25 - Oct. 1, by asking bloggers to post about their very favorite herb. Read here to find out how to join in the fun.

Common as it is, basil is my most favorite herb in the herbal kingdom. It's versatile, can be used in savory as well as sweet dishes, comes in a variety of flavors and colors, can be frozen, pounded, shredded, liquified, dried and extracted. The seeds can be soaked to a silky, gelatinous texture and spooned over fruit, custard or sorbet for a truly food porn sensation. And then there's pesto.

Always bemoaning the fact that I can't grow the luxuriously huge basil plants that I grew accustomed to when I lived in a hotter climate, I happily encountered some beautiful bunches, organically grown, at our local co-op and immediately set about to make pesto. First it was featured with fettucine and grilled chicken thighs for a potluck party we gave last weekend (the photo of which I forgot to take, which I always do when I'm cooking for a group of 20 and trying to make my house and yard presentable at the same time) and then it was spooned atop leftover thighs the next day just to remind us how good it was the first time. The last of it was paired with chevre and spread over whole grain crackers as an appetizer. Now that's versatility.

Basil Pesto
Adapted from so many recipes over such a long period of time that I've forgotten where I first saw it.

4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2/3 cups pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup coarsely grated asiago cheese
1 to 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Now you can make your pesto the hard way, pounding it by hand in a mortar and pestle, but pesto is why God made food processors.
First, put the basil and the garlic in the food processor and process, using the pulse button, until the leaves are finely chopped.
Add the nuts and pulse again until the they are finely chopped.
Add the cheese and repeat the process above until the cheese is combined with the basil mixture.
With the processor running, pour the olive oil in a slow, steady stream through the feed tube until the mixture forms a smooth paste. Use more or less oil, depending on your personal preference.
Remove from the processor bowl and season to taste with the salt and pepper.

If you want to save some pesto for the gray days of winter, spray the cups of plastic ice cube trays with a small amount of cooking spray and then fill them with the pesto, pressing down to eliminate air pockets. Freeze until solid then pop out and place in zip top freezer bags for freezer burn free storage.

As I send this post out, I'll be on a train heading across the country from California to the east coast. Most of the posts you will read for the next few weeks will be about my trip, but this event is special and I couldn't leave without joining in the celebration. Kalyn, my friend, take a bow.