On Eating and Loving Food

Pesto, or Oobleck

Posted:  Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - 10:15am

Pesto: That green stuff that I used to refer to as oobleck, the green gooey stuff that fell from the sky in the Dr. Seuss book, “Bartholomew and the Oobleck,” when King Derwin of Diddare grew bored with rain, sun, fog, and snow, and asked his royal magicians to create something new to fall from the sky.

I first heard about pesto from my friend Nancy back in 1982, when “The Silver Palate Cookbook” was published, and I made it for years. That combination of basil, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil, stirred into some linguine, with some grated Parmesan, is outrageous.

Oddly, I just Googled the Silver Palate recipe, and it calls for walnuts instead of pine nuts. Huh? I knew you could substitute walnuts for pine nuts, but I could have sworn the original recipe called for pine nuts, which I’ve always used.

And lord knows they’re not cheap.

I did once make it using pecans instead of pine nuts. I figured if I could use walnuts, then pecans would be better. Wrong. Don’t do it. It was not good.

Pesto originated in Genoa, in Liguria, Italy, where sweet, great-tasting basil flourishes, thanks to the area’s terroir, and the recipe called for pine nuts. So there. The name comes from the Italian word pestare, a verb meaning pound, or crush. The first pesto was made by crushing the ingredients with a mortar and pestle.

Recipes for pesto call for grated Parmesan and Romano blended into the sauce, but I’ve never done that. I like to stir it into the cooked pasta before stirring in the pesto. Don’t ask me why. I don’t know.

Anyway. I'm pretty sure the first time I had it was at Nancy's, and after that it became a mainstay in my diet. It's at least a little bit healthy, but one of the reasons I stopped making it around 10 years ago was because it’s so good I couldn’t stop eating it.

I’d make enough pasta with pesto for at least two meals and end up eating the whole batch, and I never gained an ounce. Crazy. I’d get up in the morning and my stomach would be as flat as the pancakes I’d have for breakfast. I'm not kidding you. Those were the good ol’ days.

When I started getting fat around my midsection I knew I had to cut back on pasta. Ugh. I hate that.

But I've started making pesto again because, one, it's too good to not eat it, and two, I'm starting to not worry about my lack of a waist. Elliot and Ruby love me just the way I am, and it's clear they think I'm gorgeous, judging by the way they gaze upon me.

If they don't care that I'm fat around the midsection then neither do I.

So anyway I bought a basil plant and some pine nuts. Man those babies are pricey! Almost $20 a pound. Luckily I already had the olive oil, garlic, grated Parmesan and pasta, and a bottle of Jack Daniels for the requisite manhattan while cooking dinner.

My favorite thing to have with pesto on pasta is sautéed thinly sliced boneless chicken breast with fresh-squeezed lemon.

I have a tendency to not measure when I make stuff like this, but here’s the original recipe, from the Silver Palate: 2 cups basil leaves, 4 large garlic cloves, 1 cup walnuts, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 cup grated Parmesan and 3 tblsp. Romano. Blend the basil, garlic and walnuts in a blender or food processor, add oil slowly while processing. You can throw in the cheese too.

I’ve always used the raw garlic, but I was thinking it might be even yummier using roasted garlic, so I did that. It WAS even yummier.

And I freeze any pesto I don’t use. I have a bunch of small plastic containers, good for one or two servings.

P.S.  I added some ricotta to leftover pesto. Hello.

P.S.S. One of the other things I’ve been depriving myself of is a frappe. Back when McSeagull’s was new and I worked at the takeout window I'd have a coffee frappe every morning for breakfast. (Those days usually wrapped up with a White Russian at the bar. :-).

Lately I’ve indulged myself with my variation of a chocolate cream soda: Squirt some Hershey syrup into a shaker. Add some whole milk and shake. Then throw in some seltzer. Of course you can throw in some ice cream too, if you have some in the freezer.

See ya next week!