My grandpa, Jack used to grow a lot of basil in his garden on Ruth Street in Bridgeport, CT. He was a man of many trades, a plumber by profession, and a trickster. When I was six he almost had me convinced a waxy plant in the upstairs bathroom grew bananas. He collected memorabilia from WWII and jazz records in his red garage, studded with Maxwell House instant coffee jars filled with nails, screws, nuts, bolts, fasteners, tacks, bits, and pipes. He was a steamfitter after all. Jack would read the Bible late at night at the kitchen table, turning the onion skin pages with meaty hands, drinking rye whiskey on the rocks.
In July, Jack would let us grandgirls into his raised vegetable garden to stand barefoot in the dirt and pluck tomatoes and eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and basil from the earth. It was a treat to carry the bounty inside to my grandmother, Josephine. There was always something cooking in her tiny kitchen. A big pot of gravy, a batch of pitzels, macaroni bubbling over in the oven. Every Sunday there was an abundance of good things to eat, yelling, smoking, and games of Pokeno around the dining room table. The Yankees would be winning on the television. Summers were fragrant and ended with sunflowers.
I channeled all that energy and those memories this morning as I whirled up some pesto with walnuts. It’s another very simple food that is miraculous, like bread, the first time you make it yourself and see how very possible it is. I browsed a few recipes to get a sense of proportions and then decided to wing it myself. It worked out well. I just slathered some on ciabatta for lunch and could only have been happier if the herbs had been grown by my grandparents, behind their snug house in an ugly city. Here’s how I did it:
- 1 cup of fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/4 cup walnuts
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves
- I pulsed the walnuts and garlic first, then added all the basil, oil, cheese. I zipped and whipped and blended until it was a thickish consistency, more of a spread than a sauce, really. It's so easy and quick and rewarding. Unlike gardening, making your own basil pesto is instant gratification. And I like that very much indeed. Try this at home before the summer ends. You'll remember things about days you lived long ago and thought that you forgot, and be happy.