Thursday, April 3, 2014

Saving the Summer

I have a topsy-turvy relationship with the Australian climate.  One the one hand, I come from a long line of anglo-celts who have no business being exposed to extreme levels of UV radiation.  No matter how well I douse myself in sunscreen and cower under the widest sombrero available, I still end up covered in freckles at the end of summer and cop a good sunburn once or twice a year. 

On the other hand, the mild weather means that I can grow fresh herbs in the back yard, year round.  The woody herbs, Rosemary and Thyme, along with the minty-type things, are there for me year round, but my favourites herbs, basil and tarragon, die off or just plain die in the winter months where overnight temperatures occasionally plummet into the single digits (NB: Yes,  I am being sarcastic).

So this year I am attempting to put some aside for the terrible three months. For the tarragon, I've just straight up frozen the picked clean leaves into vacuum sealed (OK, a straw and a deep breath) ziploc bags.  

For the basil, there is only one option - pesto. We actually have a perennial basil that is like haute cuisine for the bees, but I find it a tad too peppery for pesto, so I have no choice but to get my stick blender out and make up a monster batch of basil pesto.  This is good to make earlier in the season when the leaves are big and floppy (that's the technical term).  You end up with a sweeter pesto that way. I've probably left it a bit late, but we still had a number of big/floppy basils due to my obsessive planting regime.  

Basil Pesto 


  • 1/2 C olive oil 
  • 3 T pine nuts (I am a bit agnostic about nut choices.  I've also used macadamias and even blanched almonds)
  • 1/3 C grated parmesan (purists would say you need something fancy like pecorino romano - I have to say I've never noticed the difference).
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 t salt
  • 2+ C fresh basil leaves, picked and washed
  • Can also add parsley to sub for basil leaves if you are short on basil (this should never happen, but we live in an imperfect world).

Optional (after tasting):

  • zest of 1/2 lemon (if pesto needs a bit of zip- really good if you need to pair it with something a bit heavier like a ravioli)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon  (thins out the pesto and also adds zip, though less than the zest)
  • 2 or 3 anchovies (maybe leave off on the salt if you do this).
I use my trusty stick blender to combine all the non-herb ingredients them first.  Add more olive oil or lemon juice if the mixture looks too thick (entirely a matter of opinion), then add the herbs and whizz up.  The less contact the herbs have with the metal blade, the better your pesto will keep.  If you really want to be hard core you can use a mortar and pestle, which will result in a chunkier pesto.

So - tell me - do you have favourite summer treat that you have learned to keep aside of Winter?