Monday, September 8, 2008
Pistou! (It's Like Pesto, But Fraaaaahnch And Nutless)
First, a confession: I am a terrible gardener. Awful, truly. I start off with excellent intentions in the fresh, damply promising spring, high on the possibilities and seed catalog porn, but by the time August, with its heat and dust and persistent weeds, rolls around, I think, "Isn't it almost October?" and absently wander off to Google pumpkin bread recipes and watch past seasons of America's Next Top Model on YouTube. So, I'm actually confessing that I'm not just a terrible gardener: I'm a shiftless nincompoop, too.
But the two things with which I have consistent growing success are 1) iris and 2) herbs. I find that both thrive under the benign neglect of my ochre thumb. So while I don't have any champion roses or award-winning heirloom tomatoes to share with you, I have basil, heaps of basil, and this is what I like to do with it:
Pistou! (Which is pronounced pees-too, like you're saying 'pesto' but with a really awful French accent. Oui, oui, hahn, hahn, HAHN!*) Pistou is basically a nutless (hee) version of pesto, which makes it ideal for people with tree nut allergies, and is made from just a few ingredients, which makes it ideal for people with meal planning allergies. It is fast and cheap and tastes like fresh, sweet, potent, oily summer. Pistou!
To make some pistou, grab yourself several fistfuls of basil leaves, about three or four cups. Now, right off the bat here, I'm going to screw things up. (Shiftless!) Traditional pistou is made with a mortar and pestle, but I use my food processor, blender, or small processing bowl of my immersion stick blender. Whatever you use, just pack your leaves in loosely and add:
...one crushed clove of garlic...
...and about a heaping teaspoon of kosher salt and few grinds of black pepper.
If you have one on hand, enlist a preschooler to process the basil mixture until nearly smooth. These assistants are particularly useful if you also happen to have a blog, a blog that requires you to take photos of a stick blender in action. Pistou! Avec Preschoolers!
After your basil mixture is fairly smooth, measure out about one-third cup of olive oil. Add the oil slowly, either by streaming through the processor tube or by adding a small amount at a time and pulsing between each addition.
Soon you'll have a thick, emulsified sauce the color of spring grass. And, coincidentally, the color of pistou.
At this point I like to add about one-half cup of finely grated Parmesan or Romano, but you can also use a milder cheese, like a nice Gouda. Again, you can see that the wee, pink, preschooler fingers are helpful, if not particularly tidy. Whirl the cheese into your sauce et voila! Pistou!
Pour over a few bowls of hot fettuccine (or any hot pasta), top with a little extra cheese, maybe some halved cherry tomatoes if you're particularly ambitious, and eat. At the risk of laying down some annoying, Martha-style elitism, there really is something to be said for eating food that was growing out of the earth just fifteen minutes before dinner.
And, at the risk of sounding like a shiftless glutton, there really is something to be said for extra cheese, both the kind that goes on top of the pasta and the kind hosted by Ms. Tyra Banks.
*You know that noise that crude French stereotypes make in cartoons? Where they're kind of laughing in their guttural, crudely Frenchy way? That's what I was going for, but I had no idea how to spell it. How would you spell it? Google's got nothing for me, people.
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