Tonight was one of those nights where forces conspired against dinner. I've been excited all week to make the scheduled greens stir fry - its a seasonal recipe, it includes spring onions and spinach, which we have tons of in the fridge, mushrooms, which I bought last week, and lemongrass, which I sought out and found yesterday. But in the end, I made pesto pasta.
Pesto Pasta is my ace in the hole. The one I keep in my back pocket. A sure thing. It is the one dinner my kids will always eat, no matter what. Even if they've had thirteen pieces of pizza for lunch, soothed their afternoon hungries with five pounds of Halloween candy or just come in from a late afternoon Birthday Party loaded with cake and cookies, they will still eat at least one bowl.
It is a very particular dish, mind you. The pasta must absolutely be dried tricolor tortellini or mini ravioli stuffed with "mixed cheese filling" from Trader Joe's. No other flavor or brand will do, and certainly not fresh pasta. That is an entirely different beast all together, and they will not touch it. I have managed to sneak in some tortellini that come in a box from Rainbow Grocery - they have a slightly higher gloss than the TJ's version, but are otherwise identical. While my kids notice they aren't the same, they eat them anyway.
"I like the other one better, Mommy, but this is O.K." they tell me, as I try to sneak it by.
The pesto is homemade. And this year, the basil for the pesto is home grown. I love pesto because it is easy to make, cheap when basil is in season, and freezes well - as long as you leave out the cheese and grind it in right before serving. I'm not sure what would happen if I served somebody else's pesto. I can't imagine my kids wouldn't eat it, because pesto is just such a simple thing. But of course I want to believe they would reject any pesto other than mine.
I make pesto once or maybe twice a year, if we run out. Then I freeze it in ice cube trays, and when solid, dump the cubes into a big tupperware vat that lives in the freezer. We always have a big block of parmesan around, and a handy spinning grater to make adding the cheese easy.
There is actually a particular type of basil intended for pesto (I learned this by growing my own), and that type is not the one usually sold in grocery stores or packed into produce boxes around here. My second-generation Italian San Franciscan summer transplant neighbor was the one who clued me in. He was raving about how wonderful fried squash blossoms are, and how we must try frying some of our pumpkin flowers because they aren't any good from the store. And then he saw our basil and got very excited that it was Genovese, the correct type for making pesto!
Apparently, the darker green, spiky leaved basil we tend to find at the market is something other than Genovese Basil, though I'm not sure what. Wikipedia has me thinking the market variety is Sweet Basil, but then Cook's Garden confuses the matter by selling Sweet Genovese and something called Summerlong, for extended season growing. Either way, its about time I get my basil seedlings started. I'm wondering if it might be possible to grow two crops worth of it in our crazy summers - one started in the very early spring, and then one later in summer, for harvest in late September and October. That should make for more easy Pesto Pasta nights for me.
Basil Pesto: (adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons pine nuts
3 cups loosely packed basil leaves, stems removed, leaves washed and dried
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan (use a food processor or spinning/crank grater)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
You can make this with a mortar and pestle, but I choose to use a food processor instead. Add the garlic, salt and pine nuts and process until fairly finely chopped. Then add the basil and olive oil and process. When smooth, add the cheese and process just to combine.
To freeze it, I leave out the cheese, spoon it into ice cube trays, cover them with plastic wrap, and when they are frozen, dump the pesto cubes into a big tupperware that I keep in the freezer. When it is time to eat the pesto, I grate up cheese to mix into it before serving.