Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eating Paste

I need a culinary incentive.

Something to lure me away from my usual food haunts, to keep my dollars close, to cook at home and plan menus. A store bought bottle of wine which costs as much as a glass out is a good way to spend the night in, but what can make an unmotivated breakfast palette want to cook in her own kitchen?

A singular ingredient that works morning, noon and night. Something to take pride in, something to spread and dollop and accentuate.

This week's motivator turned out to be pesto.

It started with me recreating my favorite sandwich from the Downbeat Cafe. Mozzarella Pesto on Baguette. Extra-toasted please and add avocado.

I avert my eyes from the cafe and head to market. Fresh mozzarella, a demi-baguette, an overpriced but perfectly ripe avocado from Gelson's. I spot flat leaf parsley and grab a bunch, but refuse to pay the 3 dollars for the measly sprig of basil in the plastic container. The full and lush plant of basil from Trader Joe's still sits on my stoop beckoning.

If you buy jarred pesto, I must insist you stop immediately. At Italian delis there are often containers of frozen or refrigerated pesto that are quite excellent. But jarred pesto reeks of citric acid and cheese by products, remnants of something that was once crisp and green.

I make my pesto in a mini Black and Decker food processor. I grew up on a smoother blended pesto, but have been getting accustomed to a more rustic grandmotherly pesto, where the herbs and texture are more prominent. (My food processor is effective but dinky.)

I add basil but also add Italian parsley, arugula, maybe spinach if it's on hand. And pine nuts are too expensive today, so I do walnuts. A tiny clove of garlic. High quality extra virgin olive oil. Juice of 1/2 a lemon. Too lazy to pick out the seeds that fell in. Blend again. I don't add parmesan only because I don't have any. I am cheap. Or forgetful.

This pesto is good enough to eat by the spoonful. I proclaim it a true elixir of health, warding off all diseases and weak minded folks.

This pesto cracks my tired imagination slightly open. Awesome downbeat sandwich gets made (I am even motivated to make my own coffee) but the next day I add it to pasta with sauteed chard and zucchini. Green on green on green.

I make a very thin omelette and spread the pesto, maybe some chopped treviso, now time to add the parmesan that was once forgotten. (Never again, I promise.)

Little toasts with cheese and pesto make the perfect afternoon snack. Mix with a bit of oil and vinegar to make a salad dressing. Folded into rice. Spread on a piece of fish. Use it as a face scrub. Minus the cheese. Lots of basil left. More motivation to come.

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