[Sunday lunch, May 2011.]
I hosted a wee lunch party a week ago Sunday that I was proud of for two reasons: One, I didn’t go overboard, as often I tend to do; and two, I made vegan pesto.
My menu was:
To start: hummus (from my organic market), nice crackers, a few cheeses (brie, and maple-smoked cheddar), and honey-smoked salmon from the nice fish guy at the Fillmore farmers’ market
Then: cauliflower soup with garlic toasts
And: pesto two ways: one my delicious regular, with lots of good olive oil and parmesan cheese, and one a semi-experimental vegan version, tossed with spiral pasta and sauteed green beans and pine nuts; a big spring greens salad (via my mom)
To finish: vegan peanut butter cookies and a fluffy, three-chocolate-mousse cake from a Santa Rosa bakery, with strawberries from the market and tea (also, glasses of Korbel)
It was a lovely afternoon — sunny, because after all the prediction of rain didn’t come to pass, with the Bay-to-Breakers insanity successfully skirted and tucked away a few streets over and a yoga class earlier leaving me loose-limbed and calm. We drank and nibbled and then sat down to lunch at the new table; things are different now and things are the same, and it’s a nice place to be, this place that is San Francisco in May.
[From the market, May 2011.]
If I can be honest with you — and I can, I know — I will admit I’ve been neglecting my little blog of late. Poor blog! We’ve been together for so long, and there’s no way I am quitting it anytime soon, but oof. I feel like asking it please, pretty please, not to eye me so reproachfully (it does. I can tell). I also sort of feel like writing a dear blog letter, though that sounds dreadfully boring;however, if I did, it would go something along the lines of:
Dearest, loveliest, favoritest and best corner of the Internet that is my hidey-hole and my writing practice and my space to chronicle the meals I’ve cooked and the cakes (and cookies) baked —
Well, I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’m so hungry that I don’t take a minute (or five) to take photos of dinner. I mean, come on! Half the time I’m cooking said dinner in my sweaty running clothes after whipping through six miles and then hopping back and forth from kitchen to living room to check out the score of the game (socks have been UP lately, which makes me happy, but, blog, you probably don’t care as much about the state of Cody Ross’s footwear as I do) while gulping water. Then there’s the whole showering part, the giving a massive hug to the fiance when he comes home part, the playing with my new iphone part, the trying not to let the (brown, Jasmine) rice burn part, and all the while I’m still starving and need to EAT IMMEDIATELY as soon as dinner’s ready and so, no, I don’t always stop to take an artful photo and I’m SORRY but I have a LIFE and why are you giving me a guilt trip and –
OK, let me try again:
Dearest little patient friendly spot here at this particular URL,
I miss you. I’m sorry I’ve been so absent. Can you forgive me? I will make it up to you, I promise.
hugs and many besos,
ps: I’m baking a cake on Wednesday! I will photograph it to hell and back! You will be proud of me!
Also, blog, life’s been jam-packed lately. I’m not complaining, but I’m just mentioning this by way of explanation. I think baking that cake last month wiped me out bit. Or perhaps it’s all the tiny (and not-so) decisions that come along with planning a major life event that must be made within the next few months. Or probably also it’s the various and sundry deadlines that must be met and projects that must be completed and and and. Or it could also be all the running — I’ve been upping the mileage lately when I can because it just feels so good to be outside in the crisp spring air, sun or no, and because a little miracle happened to me this winter in the form of iron supplements (because, err, I’m a vegetarian who probably doesn’t get enough) that’s done wonders for my pace and endurance.
But yes, I miss you. I miss us. And I’m gonna make it up to you.
[Pesto for lunch, May 2011.]
Last weekend’s lunch was a decent start. Sure, basil is the just the barest bit out of season, but when I was chewing over a potential menu I wanted mainly to make something that is (pretty much) universally liked as well and do-ahead-able and simple. And I really do love pesto. So two batches it was — one with cheese and one without, and I decided to swirl it into spiral pasta because that’s pretty and a little different, with a bunch of green beans and toasted pine nuts to give the whole dish a little something extra. And so we had heaping helpings of pesto, and an enormous, vegetable-filled salad, and it was just right for spring — very green, very fresh, very sunny somehow. We were filled but not stuffed, and that’s the best kind of lunch to have.
I love to make pesto because it’s quick to throw together and I usually have all the ingredients — parmesan, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, basil — on hand. It’s also versatile. If, for example, you don’t have pine nuts, you could try walnuts or almonds. If you can’t find basil, parsley works well in a pinch, and spinach is even better. You may go light on the olive oil if you like it less oily; you may omit the cheese if you want to go the vegan route.
Well, I love parmesan. I do! Very sharp cheddar, brie, and parmesan are probably my top three cheese choices. But this is not about cheese, it’s about vegan pesto. And let me tell you: vegan pesto is great, surprisingly so. The secret is to add a little lemon juice and/or zest in place of the cheese, and to play around with the amount of oil and that lemon juice to create a consistency that will stand up sturdily to pasta, or toast, or whatever you like. It’s certainly not boring, which I was afraid it might be. You could do a combo of various fresh herbs, or a basil-spinach (or a basil-parsely?) to punch things up a bit; you could add more garlic. Either way, you’ll probably not miss the cheese — and coming from someone who loves her traditional pesto perhaps more than is rational (and who’ll gladly pile on more parmesan after filling her plate) this is high praise indeed.
Meanwhile — yeah, what I said earlier. Me and the blog are soon going to be likethis. Molasses-infused french toast is coming up next — swear.
I made the pesto last week with almonds rather than pine nuts because I’d run out; it was lovely, though I’m partial to pine nuts myself (despite their current exorbitant cost!) and was probably the only one who missed their addition. Play around with the quantity of olive oil and lemon juice, too — some of us prefer our pesto to be more sauce-like, some of us prefer it more dry. Experiment!
4 Tbs. pine nuts (or almonds)
4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 to 3 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
3 Tbs. lemon juice plus 1 Tb. lemon zest (optional)
In a food processor, combine the pine nuts and garlic. Process to chop coarsely. Add about half of the basil and process to chop coarsely. Add the remaining basil and olive oil and process until a thick green sauce forms. Add the lemon juice and zest if using. If the sauce is too thin, add more basil; if it is too thick, add more olive oil. Salt to taste.
Makes about 1 1⁄2 cups.