Archives for posts with tag: pesto

Warning:  Insect photo below.

We have reached—and moved beyond—the point of diminishing returns on the basil.  It has grown much faster than we can use it and now, the leaves are starting to deflate and turn yellow.  The plants still smell divine—this has been by far the most aromatic basil I have ever grown—and their flavor remains bold and clear.  But the basil won’t be getting any better and could easily start to degrade.

Therefore, we decided to end the season for the original planting (at the southeast corner of the east planter) and clear-cut the lot.  Doing so produced a huge pile of leaves, enough for several batches of pesto.  In addition to the usual recipe—with pine nuts and parmesan—we will vary the nut and cheese options.  One batch will use walnuts or pistachio nuts and another will include Pecorino Romano.  We’ll also make what might more aptly be called basil paste, with neither nuts nor cheese.

The basil’s corner of the planter now looks a bit ravaged, like a miniature tornado tore through it.  Eventually, I will pull out the stubs and roots as part of my fall clean-up.  Meanwhile, the more recently planted basil in the southwest corner of the planter will provide enough green leaves to add to salads, etc., until the first frost.  If we get enough warning (the National Weather Service is not always timely), we will clear-cut this basil as well.

Because I already had the clippers out (and I had to use the big ones; the basil stems were large and tough), I took yet another pass at pruning the tomato vines.  My periodic cutting and trimming has been keeping them partially in control although the branches are still more tightly entwined than I would like.  It is reassuring that the plants remain healthy and robust.

I had been holding my breath, hoping that we might make it through the year without seeing a tomato hornworm.  But, really, what was I thinking?  Sure enough, as I was untangling a couple of Brandywine branches, I uncovered a large hornworm, calmly munching away.  It hadn’t done much damage but I shudder to think of how many leaves it could have eaten if it had been left undiscovered.

This is the latest in the season we have made it without finding any of them.  Last year, the first hornworm appeared in mid-August; in 2011, we had two broods, one in mid-July (which seems very early) and another in late-September.  After three seasons of vegetable gardening, I have concluded that the presence of this particular pest falls into the “inevitable” category.  If you grow them (tomatoes), they (hornworms) will come.

At the other end of the garden, the Purple Amethyst and Roma II string beans have been quietly producing an abundance of beans.  Perhaps stealthily would be a better description.  A casual glance at the plants—a wall of leafy vines clinging to the trellis—might mislead one into thinking that no beans were present.  But after reaching into the vines and pushing the leaves aside, a multitude of ripening beans is revealed.  They dangle vertically, parallel to the vines and protected from the sun by the leaves.

We are growing purple beans, which aside from their color look quite typical, and Italian-style beans, which are wider and flatter with larger lumps (the actual beans).  Rachel grew up with the latter but they are relatively new to me.  They have a distinctly vegetal flavor—their taste might be the definition of green—and are delicious steamed and/or sautéed with lots of butter.

We’re not the only ones who like them.  Several of the beans had been tunneled through by creatures unknown.  They are some type of worm, judging by the entry and exit holes, and left the beans looking like Swiss cheese.

The basil plants are starting to crowd out the adjacent eggplants, in spite of our frequent harvesting of the large, aromatic leaves.  To clear out a bit of space between them and give the eggplants a better chance to expand (they still have not set any fruit), we pulled out two entire basil plants.  Both had wide and deep root systems; clearly, the conditions below the soil are as good as they are above it.  With the abundance of basil leaves, Rachel made two batches of pesto, one to eat now and one to freeze (and eat later).

The basil plants that have been growing indoors (see May 12, 2013) have become pale and anemic.  Apparently, three stems are too many to live in one small pot.  Therefore, we relocated them to the space in the east planter vacated only recently by the lettuce.  Into this spot we also moved the basil plants that had been living (both in pots and in the ground) in the adjunct herb garden on the patio (see June 29, 2013).  As expected, they had not been getting enough sun.

At the back of the east planter, the tomato vines continue to reach above the top of their cages and, with the development of fruit on almost all of their branches, have become top heavy.  We took another pass at them with the clippers and trimmed the remaining main stems as well as many of the larger branches and suckers.  Even with their main stems truncated, the tomatoes will need additional pruning to keep them in control.

Over in the west planter, something continues to nibble away at the cauliflower leaves, making them look more like lace doilies than vegetable plants.  Whatever is doing it munched a few turnip leaves while they were at it.  I can’t say I blame them; turnip greens are delicious.  For what it’s worth, I sprayed everything with an herbal bug repellent.  It’s hard to believe that something that smells so good to me can be abhorrent to insects.

There is a freeze warning in effect for Saturday morning and if the forecast holds up, it will mean an abrupt end to the growing season for a lot of us in the northeast.  In some ways, I would prefer the decisive finality of a hard frost—nothing to do but clean up afterwards—but because we still have fruit on the vine, I hope that the mercury does not drop below freezing (or, if it does, it is not for very long).

Just in case, we will start harvesting whatever is ripe or nearly so.  We have one yellow bell pepper that is ready to go and two Trucker’s Favorite tomatoes that although not fully red are far enough along to make a nice addition to tonight’s salad (they will go nicely with watercress and radishes).

The most sensitive plant remaining in the garden is the basil.  To head off what would be a catastrophic loss, we clear-cut the entire patch, leaving behind an orderly grid of stubby stems that only Morticia could love.  It also left us with a big bowlful of basil leaves.  What to do with them?  What else?  We made pesto, our go-to recipe for basil.

Actually, I should say that Rachel made pesto; I pulled the leaves off the stems (and took pictures).  She prepared two types:  one with all green basil, parmesan cheese and walnuts; the other with a mix of green and Red Rubin (i.e., purple) basil, pecorino cheese and almonds.  The variations in the ingredients make for finished pestos (pestoes?  pesti?) of intriguingly different flavors, colors and textures.

Since we started to grow basil in quantity and with some success (it did wonderfully well this year), I have come to appreciate what a versatile and delicious food pesto is.  Besides its common use as a sauce for pasta (greatly improved by the addition of a small volume of pasta cooking water), pesto can be added to soups, spread on vegetables before (or after) grilling, used like mayonnaise on sandwiches and heaped on crostini or bruschetta.

Pesto is also good plain and by itself, eaten straight from the food processor.  This is not unlike snacking on spoonfuls of peanut butter taken directly from the jar (often, while standing in front of the open refrigerator).  Depending on its consistency (we like ours fairly tight), pesto doesn’t stick as badly to the roof of your mouth but it does leave little specks of green on your teeth.

Two weeks ago, we harvested at least half of the sweet basil, snipping off each main stem about a foot above soil level (see July 23, 2012, part 2).  Today, the basil was back to two feet tall and ready for another trimming.  Rachel cut them back at roughly the same place as before and this afternoon, made another batch of pesto.  It’s only early August and already, our freezer is full.  We need to start looking for other basil recipes.

There are lots of little zucchini squashes developing but not all parts of the plant are happy.  The main stem is getting yellow and ropy where it comes out of the ground and some of the young squashes are looking a bit pale and shriveled.  We decided to cut off preemptively the less viable looking fruits so that the vine does not waste any more energy on them.  We did the same about a week ago and hope that the trend does not continue.

The basil plants, which we had almost given up on about a month ago, have in the last few days grown tall and full.  So tall, in fact, that if not harvested soon, they would bolt and their leaves would start to wilt.  To get out of this happy predicament, we picked enough basil to make a big batch of pesto.

For this first pesto of the season, Rachel chose the classic recipe:  basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, and salt.  To freshen it up, she added lemon zest, lemon juice and just a drop or two of lemon oil.  I would have been happy cutting a few slices of bread, slathering them with pesto, and eating them over the sink.

But I was just as happy spooning the pesto into Ziplock baggies and stashing them in the freezer.  On some cool, rainy night in the not-too-distant future, the zesty sauce will turn a bowl of plain pasta into a hearty and satisfying meal.