I spent most of yesterday working in the garden. After a week away, followed by a week of poor weather (when I didn’t really fancy working outdoors) the veggie patch had started to look quite neglected. Weeds were sprouting, the runner beans were looking a little too long, and three courgettes had turned into marrows! When the bright sunshine finally burst through the clouds yesterday we decided to take the opportunity to get out into the garden and start tidying up our veggie patch. We began by pruning back the leafy branches of the tomato plants in the greenhouse (along with some rogue tomato bushes that had popped up in the herb border and the courgette bed) so that the last of the tomatoes could ripen in the September sun. A large bowlful were ready to pick, and it looks like more will be ready to harvest this weekend, so I’m thinking about ways of preserving them. I saw a recipe for smoked garlic tomato relish in the current issue of The Simple Things so I’d like to give that a go over the coming week – I think it would be a delicious accompaniment to my cheeseboard at Christmas. After all the weeding, my eye settled upon the basil plant that I’d grown from seed as a ‘companion’ plant for the tomatoes in the greenhouse. I don’t know when it had become such a huge bush, but it now looked massive in comparison to the neatly trimmed tomato plants. It was even blooming into flower so Hubby and I started cutting it back to make space in the greenhouse so that more sunlight would reach the tomatoes. We ended up with a huge pile of basil prunings, and I was just saying to my husband that it would be a waste to throw it on compost heap when I remembered that one of my all-time favourite pasta dishes is made with basil. Why didn’t I think of it before? Why had I gone a whole summer without blitzing up some basil? I love pesto. I’m one of those people who would actually eat it out of the jar with a spoon. It’s so obvious now, but I’d never considered it before. I planted the basil seeds so that I could throw a few fresh leaves into a Bolognese or layer them with mozzarella when using up my tomato harvest. At no point did I ever imagine that I’d make pesto, nor that I would grow such a huge plant that would provide enough basil to whizz up into a sauce. So I was pretty chuffed when this thought pinged into my mind yesterday and I set to work immediately. I googled pesto recipes and each one I read suggested throwing a handful of this and a sprinkling that into the mix so I came to the conclusion that, as long as you have plenty of basil to start with, you’ll end up with something like pesto at the end, whatever you choose to add for taste. So here’s how I made it: I plucked the best leaves from my massive bunch and washed them thoroughly before putting into a blender cup and pulsing for a few seconds. The basil whizzed down to practically nothing but blimey the smell was gorgeous! I threw in a couple of handfuls of lightly toasted pine nuts and the same amount of grated parmesan. I also added about a clove-and-a-half of garlic and whizzed the whole lot together. The paste was pretty thick by now so I stirred in some extra virgin olive oil, bit by bit, until it turned into the consistency of pesto pastes that I’ve bought in the past. I added a splash of lemon juice and a crunch of salt and pepper to taste (tasting was the fun part, and I had to check it a few times to get it right, mmm!). When it looked right and tasted right I popped it into a jar and poured a little extra olive oil over the top to ‘seal’ it. Of course I couldn’t wait long before trying it out, so last night’s dinner was spaghetti with a huge blob of pesto stirred in. Oh my goodness. It was divine. I’m not being overly smug, but it was better than any other jar of pesto I’d eaten before. I think it was the fact that it was so fresh that made it so zingy and flavoursome. I’m going to add little dollops of my pesto on top of our homemade pizzas this weekend and I can’t wait to eat it again! Honestly, have a go at making your own fresh pesto, you won’t regret it. And you don’t need to grow-your-own to do this; if a basil plant has been marked down in the supermarket, grab it and blitz it up for dinner!
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