A Pesto Summer.

ScapesIf this year marked the Spring of Risotto, then this is surely the Summer of Pesto.  I can’t stop making the stuff.  It all started a few weeks ago when I threw together some parsley pesto; since then, pretty much anything that I can fit in my Cuisinart is getting blitzed.

A particular favorite of mine is garlic scape pesto — doesn’t this look like I’m about to take my knife to a pile of bright green elvers? — but I’ve had great success with mint and even a sun-dried tomato and basil combo.

If you’re not going to use pesto immediately, no matter what type it is, after you transfer it to a storage container or bowl pour a thin layer of olive oil over its entire surface to keep it from turning an unappetizing shade of brown. Though pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days, I’ll pretty much immediately spoon my results into a dated and labeled bags, then freeze them.  Days, weeks or even a few months later, you can defrost a bag to mix into a bowl of boiled potatoes, spread onto chicken breast, dollop into omelets and, of course, toss with pasta.

Basil Pesto, from How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Makes about 1 cup

2 loosely packed cups fresh basil leaves, big stems discarded, rinsed and dried
Salt to taste
½ to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan or other hard cheese (optional)

Combine the basil, salt, garlic, nuts and about half the oil in a food processor or blender.  Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container occasionally, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add additional oil if you prefer a thinner mixture.   Stir in the Parmesan by hand just before serving.

Garlic Scape + Almond Pesto, from Dorie Greenspan
Makes about 1 cup

10 garlic scapes, finely chopped
1/3 to ½ cup finely grated Parmesan (to taste and texture)
1/3 cup slivered almonds (you could toast them lightly, if you’d like)
About ½ cup olive oil
Sea salt

Put the scapes, 1/3 cup of the cheese, almonds and half the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor (or use a blender or a mortar and pestle).  Whir to chop and blend all the ingredients and then add the remainder of the oil and, if you want, more cheese.  If you like the texture, stop; if you’d like it a little thinner, add some more oil.  Season with salt.

Mint Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

2 cup packed fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or toasted slivered almonds
2 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of your knife
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt + Pepper to taste

Place the mint leaves, pine nuts and garlic in a food processor and pulse until chopped. With the machine on, add the lemon juice and olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth.  Season the pesto with salt and pepper.

Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
Makes a bit less than a cup

¾ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, drained (I prefer to use the halves, though have used the julienned if that is what I had on hand)
¼ cup loosely packed basil leaves
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 cloves garlic, smashed with the side of your knife
Salt + pepper to taste

Combine  ingredients in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil.  Blitz until smooth, adding oil slowly to achieve desired texture.

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CSA 2009, Week Ten.

Here’s a little secret about me, from my lips to your ears: I hate eggplant.  I know I’m supposed to like it — the same way I’m supposed to like asparagus — but non, je le déteste.

That said, it comes as a surprise to me — and, maybe, now to you too — that I love moussaka.  It’s creamy and rich and at once savory and sweet…  So imagine my delight when, earlier this summer, Keith and I were invited to Alyssa and Guillaume’s house for moussaka dinner.

“We’re in the mood to cook,” Alyssa wrote to me in an email, “and we’re thinking moussaka.  We have lots of beer and prosecco,” she further enticed, not knowing I was already all-in.

It was this meal I had in mind when I opened my CSA box this week and encountered a massive, teardrop-shaped eggplant, alongside the following:

  • Carrots
  • Chard
  • Dill
  • Garlic
  • Green tomatoes
  • Jalepeño
  • Purple pepper
  • Salad mix
  • Sweet onion
  • Yellow beans

With a little wheedling, I was able to get Guillaume’s recipe, which I am sharing with you all here.  Traditionally, moussaka is layers of sautéed sliced eggplant and ground lamb flavored with herbs, garlic, onion and tomato snuggling together underneath a nice blanket of béchamel.  (When I was in Spain several years ago, someone described moussaka as “Greek lasagna,” which I found both funny and oddly apt.)  Guillaume shortcuts the béchamel with a cream-cheese-and-milk sauce that works surprisingly well.

Guillaume’s Moussaka
Makes four portions

6 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound lamb
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 ½ cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick purée (15 ounce can)
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
Fresh-ground black pepper
1 eggplant (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into ¼ inch slices
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ cup milk
¼ cup grated Parmesan

  1. Heat the broiler.  In a large stainless-steel frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over moderate heat.  Add the onion and garlic; cook until starting to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the lamb and cook until the meat loses its pink color, about 2 minutes.  Stir in the wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, bay leaf, cinnamon, allspice, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat.  Simmer, covered for 10 minutes.
  2. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with the remaining 5 tablespoons oil and season with 1/8 teaspoon each salt and pepper.  Put the eggplant slices on a large baking sheet and broil, 6 inches from the heat, until browned about 5 minutes.  Turn and broil until browned on the other side, about 5 minutes longer.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine cream cheese, milk, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper.  Warm over low heat until just melted.
  4. Oil an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.  Layer half the eggplant in the dish, then half the meat sauce.  Sprinkle with half the Parmesan.  Repeat with the remaining eggplant, meat sauce, and Parmesan.  Spoon half the cream cheese sauce on top; broil until just starting to brown, 1 to 2 minutes.

Three Books, Two Days, One Lake.

This is what my summer has been like so far:  Maine, Maine, Maine, Maine.

See, we just got back from a weekend at Little Sebago Lake with Keith’s family; they’ve been renting the same house for the past thirty years, and I’ve been going up for the first week in August for the past nine years or so.  This year, Keith and I only stayed for a weekend, but that didn’t stop me from taking part in my favorite lakeside activity: reading.

Wanting to be prepared, I brought more books than articles of clothing — it wouldn’t be possible to get to each one during the stay, but I’m a really moody reader and knew I’d appreciate the variety, even if it meant I wouldn’t make my way through even half the stack.  Here’s what I read:

Those Who Save UsI am fascinated by World War II, and so will greedily consume any- and everything related to it — including, I’m not ashamed to say, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which I’ll be watching later this summer.  Jenna Blum‘s debut novel Those Who Save Us both is and isn’t about the Second World War; it’s also about guilt, love and the relationship between mothers and daughters.

Since emigrating to Minnesota, Trudy’s mother Anna has never discussed her experiences in Germany during World War II with anyone, particularly her daughter.  Now a German history professor, Trudy begins interviewing other German Minnesotans about their lives during the 1930s and 40s.  What she records changes Trudy’s opinion of her mother irreversibly.

Those Who Save Us swaps its narrative back and forth between Trudy’s present-day existence and Anna’s past.  Normally, when I read a multiple-character stories I find myself drawn more to one individual than the other, but Blum writes both mother and daughter so compellingly that I’m unable to pick favorites.

It’s difficult to discuss much of the plot without giving everything away, but what I can elaborate upon is, albeit briefly, what Anna did to ensure she and young Trudy survived the harsh times of World War II Germany.  Unwillingly, Anna takes a lover: the Obersturmführer of Buchenwald.  To say their relationship is strained and tense is an understatement of absurd proportions — though the exact same words can be used to describe the dynamic between mother and daughter.  Happily, Blum allows her characters to earn their peace authentically; not once do their revelations — and, in time, the novel’s conclusion — seem forced.

The Best of EverythingI was talking on the phone with my friend Amee the other night; during our conversation I confessed that I’ve always wished I could stand on a street corner in New York during the late 1950s and early 60s, and just people-watch.

“Imagine,” I said dreamily, “women wore hats and gloves, and got their hair set…”

Women do all this and more in Rona Jaffe‘s groundbreaking first novel, The Best of Everything.  Published in 1958, the book is has influenced modern-day television shows as disparate as Sex and the City and Mad Men (a personal favorite).  Through the five fresh-faced secretaries featured in The Best of Everything, the reader gets an incredibly authentic view into a very distinct period of American life — especially considering Jaffe wrote the novel when she was in her mid-twenties and working as an associate editor at Fawcett Publications.

Under no circumstances would I call Jaffe’s work here literature, but I will enthusiastically refer to it as compelling and engrossing reading.  I will also say it was oddly prescient — the women in The Best of Everything find themselves embroiled in situations that my friends and I (and our friends’ friends, and theirs, and women everywhere) still encounter today: men issues, work issues, friend issues, parent issues.    Luckily, the creepiest part of the book — blatant, unabashed sexism — seems mostly outdated.

The Sweet Life in ParisOne day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I’ll have a little walk-up in Paris, except we’ll call it a pied-à-terre, where I’ll live with Keith and our two dogs named Virgil and Geraldine, and I’ll wear stripey bateau-neck tops with quarter-length sleeves and dart in and out of bakeries and market stalls with my basket of groceries, and each night Keith and I will walk the dogs along the Seine.

You know what they say about girls being able to dream.

In the meantime, David Lebovitz‘s anecdotal cookbooky memoir The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious — and Perplexing — City will have to tide me over.

If you’ve not read Lebovitz’s blog, start reading it now.  It’s funny, observant and full of fool-proof recipes — and his book is more of the same.  My only complaint, for lack of a better word, is that Lebovitz’s choice of chapter-concluding recipes don’t necessarily pertain to the tales he spends the previous pages telling, which isn’t a bad thing, of course.  I just wanted a bit more continuity.  Though with instructions on how to make a plum and raspberry clafoutis and pain d’epices au chocolat, I’m kind of a jerk for being so nitpicky.