It hurt, but we tore out the garden this weekend. It has been a strange growing season. Up until Tuesday of this week, we were still experiencing temperatures in the 90s and humidity that felt more like July. Despite being in “exceptional” drought for the last two months, the tomatoes must have thought we were having a second summer, because they all put out new flowers, and we even had tiny green tomatoes on some plants, too small to save.
Then, the temperature plummeted overnight 20 degrees to more fall-like weather, and nighttime lows fell into the 30s. We knew the baby tomatoes wouldn’t survive, but it was still painful to pull up all those plants in flower and toss them into the compost pile.
Still, I did manage to harvest quite a lot of basil from my three plants, despite letting them all go to flower for the past six weeks since it was so brutally hot that nothing would get me working outside. I made two batches of pesto: one regular-style for freezing, and one batch of arugula-basil pesto with ricotta and walnuts for eating this week (see recipe below).
Reading through my Cook’s Illustrated Italian Classics‘ section on pestos, I discovered two new tips for making pesto. The first recommendation was that before processing the pesto, put the basil or other herbs in a plastic bag and pound them with a rolling pin. This has the effect of bruising the leaves, producing a more authentic taste, a la Italian ladies pounding pesto with their mortar and pestles.
I decided not to adopt this technique, though, mainly because it seemed like too much trouble, and I wasn’t sure the gain in flavor would be worth it. If anyone else has tried it, I’d love to know what your results were. I just settled for treating the basil extra roughly when I pulled it off the stems and washed it.
The second recommendation was to toast the garlic cloves whole and unpeeled until spotty brown before processing with the rest of the ingredients. This, on the other hand, seemed like a great idea, and it was easy enough to toast the garlic in the same pan as I toasted the nuts. Since toasted garlic isn’t as strong as raw, I was able to use more, always a good thing, in my book.
Arugula-Basil Pesto with Ricotta and Walnuts
Process together until smooth in a food processor:
- 1 cup basil leaves
- 1 cup arugula leaves
- ¼ cup walnuts, toasted
- 3 whole garlic cloves, toasted until spotty brown and peeled
- 1/3 cup ricotta
- ¼ cup Parmesan
- 7 tbsp. olive oil
- salt to taste
Toss with hot, cooked pasta and serve.
Notes: Adapted from a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated’s Italian Classics. Pesto can be stored under a film of olive oil or with plastic wrap pressed against the surface in the refrigerator up to 3 days.