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The Great Basil


No one can visit my grandparents’ house in the summer months and leave without a bag full of greens from the garden. People worry about offending them if they refuse the goods, but I think their feeling is more one of panic: I can see the two of them home, surrounded by basil, tomatoes, eggplants, and whathaveyous, bagging produce for guests, worried all that stuff won’t get eaten in time. Perhaps I should petition for them to start a CSA.

Being the helpful granddaughter that I am, I recently raided their garden for the first wave of basil. It was a hit-and-run basil pickup as I stuffed the bag into the car’s back seat. We were on our way to visit my new niece, so the excitement of having them meet their first great-granddaughter dissolved all thoughts of greenery.

When I opened the bag later that night, something seemed amiss. “I thought they gave us basil,” I said to Joe, my authority on all things edible (except for baking). We poked through the bag a little dumbfounded. It looked like a bag of field greens or baby spinach, the leaves were so gigantic. Obviously they weren’t, but I’m so used to seeing puny little basil leaves, two to three inches long at most, that I barely recognized this as basil.

With its identity confirmed, we did what any kids armed with their parents’ recipes and their grandparents’ harvest would do: We made pesto. 

And for dinner, a fresh batch of tomatoes and eggs.

This was also a great excuse to bust out the seasoned salt we picked up from Dario Cecchini at his butcher shop in Tuscany two years ago. I’m such a hoarder with things like this, we’ve hardly used the little jar for fear it will run out.

You can find endless recipes for pesto online, and unless you want tips for experimentation you don’t truly need one for a classic pesto. Just arm yourself with basil, olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts if you don’t want to splurge on expensive pine nuts), salt, pepper, garlic, and Parmesan. The quantity of each is entirely up to you. Just start by combining the basil and olive oil in a blender or food processor. Add one garlic clove and season to your preferences. Then keep tasting and adding things as you like them. If you’re too fearful to forge ahead without a recipe, this is a great one.

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