Saturday, February 9, 2013

Presto Pesto

Image from La Grange college library
One of the things that I have grown to love nearly above all else is pesto. (And it is especially great when you have the foresight to freeze some of your summer basil bounty. So perhaps this post is a little unfairly tantalizing in February, but I have been hoarding it since September... I’ll remind you again in June how much you love pesto!)
 My large bushy bouquets of basil in my garden were such a source of delight. Pine nut pesto is delicious, but usually a non-local luxury. Plus  many of the pinion pine trees that produce this delicious nut are dying (Boo you, climate change).

1908 Milk truck in America. Image from Wikimedia.
Here in Oklahoma the land is still dotted by orchards of huge old pecan trees. In some cities, like mine, the land has been developed but remnants of the orchards still dot the landscape in mighty towering shady rows. They stand like the crumbling columns of ancient buildings, the bones of former civilizations.  Such a beautiful reminder of the adage that wisdom is planting trees, the shade of which one will never see.
I wonder about what my city was like then- 100 years ago when my land, now one block from a bustling main street, fed cows in a very large dairy for the milk delivered daily by horse drawn cart, to houses with wooden ice boxes and an additional delivery of ice.
Where did the water come from to grow these trees in our frequently dry, often unpredictable, landscape? Did some farmer's daughter carry it one bucketful at a time, for her whole adolescence, maybe through her whole adult life, from the life giving well? For how many long years did she have to wait, to even taste the fruit from her labor? And how astonishing would it be to her that now these nuts are shaken down, skinned, packaged, and pulverized by machine. Perhaps I need to savor them just a bit longer.
Sun dried tomato polenta (Start the night before or morning of. So easy, don't be intimidated)!
  • 4 cups of water
  • 1 cup of coarse corn meal  (I omitted the Parmesan to save some money)
  • 1/2 cup of sun dried tomatoes (free from last summer's garden)
I can buy a small log of polenta at my grocery store for around for Polenta $3.75 or make your own for about $0.75 

Roasted pecan pesto
0.5 lbs of roasted pecans $3 (Local price if you pick them from a free source but take them to a sheller . Lucky lucky me my sweet grandparents had just given me several pounds from their tree that they picked and shelled by hand). For some other posts about my grandparents and my Granny Smith's sweet petite pies go here.
  • 6 large handfuls of basil leaves(free from garden) or $2.00
  • 0.5 cups olive oil $1
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast 0.25
  •  1/2 tsp sea salt
So, when I make pesto I love to add a degree of richness to it by first roasting the nuts. Lightly coat them with olive oil and roast in 375 degree oven for about seven minutes or just until they smell pungent but not burned. Sometimes, to save energy, I do this in my tiny toaster oven. Sometimes when I do this, I also almost catch the house on fire, but those incidents are another story...
I have also found there is an unmistakeable but mystifying difference in the taste between pounded pesto and chopped pesto. If you have a mortar and pestle or even the back side of a cup or rolling pin handle crush the basil. Your pesto will be so much more fragrant. If you don't have the time to pound it completely just do it a bit before putting in food processor with other Ingredients.
The nutritional yeast is a powder that can be found at health food stores and is a cheaper (vegan alternative), also rich in B vitamins, alternative to hard cheeses traditionally used. It can be overpowering so use sparingly.
Roasted vegetables
  • 1 red pepper (frozen) $1
  • 2 summer squash (or about 1 pound of other seasonal squash)$1.50
  • 3 large carrots $1.00]]  
Menu total: $10.50 or $1.75/ person
Set broiler to low. Cook squash and carrots for about 7 min and then add pepper and corn for 7 more min until barely browning and blistering. Set aside to cool.
While the veggies are cooling slightly Pan fry the polenta in 1/4 inch slices for 4-5 min each slide with pesto added to the pan about halfway through to warm it. Rub the skins off the vegetables and mix them.
Simple one dish meal.
For more "golden nuggets", ie ultra cheap meals, check out others in our 10 for 10 series.

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