[My new favorite sandwich: pesto, spinach, fresh mozzarella, November 2008.]
I made pesto last week when my parents came in for dinner, and I ate it the next day for leftovers. Then I had it again a few nights later — one of the the perks of living alone is that there’s more for just you — and I am having it again tonight. I even planned to get up earlier than usual yesterday to make it to the farmers’ market before the late-season basil sold out. I mean, I’ve always loved pesto, but for some reason in the past few weeks it’s been on my mind. A lot. One might even call it a bit of an obsession.
Unfortunately, basil is more of a summer herb than a fall or winter (oh, it’s coming so soon!) winter one. But that heady combination of pungent greens, garlic, pine nuts, a swirl of olive oil and a good amount of parmesan cheese surely should not be foregone even in these chillier seasons.
[Basil, October 2008.]
As I anticipate many months lacking those sweetly pungent green leaves, I’ve started coming up with some variations on a theme in order to tide myself over a bit. If we, for example, take the basic garlic, nuts, olive oil, and parmesan combination, there are actually quite a few options — one of which is swapping arugula for the basil and walnuts for the pine nuts. I’ve done this in the past to fairly good results and I will definitely do it again during these longer, darker nights when summer’s warm (err, warmish; this is San Francisco after all) days are just a distant memory and I’m longing for sunny days at the beach.
I’ve also, by way of orangette, made a sort of parsely-almond-lemon pesto topping that’s great on baked halibut (or, um, so I hear, as I don’t actually eat the fish but I have certainly made that and dipped my finger in to taste; it’s definitely worth making again and again). There’s also the idea of substituting sundried tomatoes for the basil but keeping everything else the same — I’ve done that, too, and it’s quite good. And just today I had the wild though of making a sort of dessert pesto with fresh mint, almonds, and lemon juice — no cheese, please — that might make a delectable topping next spring for, say, honey ice cream or a strawberry sorbet.
[Lunch, November 2008.]
Yesterday I cooked and cooked and then cooked some more. I’m on a deadline, but also I wanted to be in the kitchen just drinking lots of water and listening to the radio and chopping and sauteeing. It was a great day. I broke for a late lunch around 3 p.m. and made what I swear is my new favorite sandwich: home made pesto spread on fresh bread, topped with spinach and fresh mozzarella, then popped in the toaster oven for a few minutes until the cheese melted. I sprinkled a bit of oregano and pepper on top and brewed a cup of tea and set in. I recommend you try this and it might become your new favorite, sandwich, too.
In the meantime, because I think I got the last few bunches of the season’s basil last week at the farmers’ market and in most parts of the country you’ve probably been lacking basil for months at this point, I’ll leave you with what I’ll call an “almost-pesto” — a few almonds, a few leaves of spinach, lots of good parmesan and olive oil whirled together into creamy perfection. I like to toss it with lots of hot, whole-wheat pasta and have a bit of wilted greens alongside; it makes a nourishing and filling daylight-savings dinner. It also almost might make you look forward to winter (well, only almost).
10 spinach leaves
2 cloves garlic
2 Tb. sliced almonds
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
In a food processor, process the garlic and almonds until they form a paste. Add the spinach leaves ad salt. Add the olive oil in a steady stream and process until smooth. Add the cheese and process well.