Thursday, June 4, 2009

(b) you make some arugula pesto

I usually start my arugula outdoors in late April. Late April in Northeast Ohio is still cool, but spring is starting to make herself known: the sun we forgot existed during the frigid winter manifests itself again and the spring flowering bulbs begin to peek out of the garden soil, their bright colors hinting at the season to come. You see, arugula (lettuce, too) loves cooler temperatures and thrives when the sun is shining but the air is a teeny bit brisk. And if it gets too brisk, I simply cover the plantings with a big bed sheet, tucking them in for a cozy overnight rest. By late May I am usually chomping on fresh, tender and extremely locally grown arugula leaves.

(Jet stretches and yawns near the freshly-picked arugula.)

But not this year. Spring was much too cold this year, even for the cool-loving arugula. Winter was all, I am totally not going anywhere, suckers. Plant at your own peril. It snowed at the end of April. And though I frantically -- and with great and misguided warm-weather anticipation -- installed a window unit air conditioner in our guest bedroom so our Australian friends would not swelter during their visit, when they got here I found myself showing them the location of the extra blankets and turning on the furnace. The tomatoes, peppers, herbs and flowers that I started indoors from seed in mid-March were, by mid-May, undergoing a daily ritual wherein Husband and Matt (aforementioned Australian friend) would carry all of the seedlings outside in the morning so they could soak up the warm-enough sun during the day, only to schlep them all back into the safe warmth of the house after the sun went down and the air chilled. Twelve or so trays of seedlings: in, out, in, out, in, out, in out. Here's a tip: It's fun and easy to start plants from seed if you have people to transport them to and fro for you based on environmental conditions! I recommend importing at least one of these people from Australia!

Definitely too cold for the arugula.

So, what would have been planted in April did not get sowed until May. This later planting certainly had its pros and cons. Pro: Planting later meant Dad had enough time to construct the lettuce frames that I gently and quietly and maybe repeatedly mentioned that I'd like to have. Said lettuce frames are totally awesome and innovatively constructed, faced with cedar and extending off the back porch rail.

(As you can see, these lettuce frames cannot be carried inside in case of a frost.)

Cons: Planting in May meant no arugula-chomping in May. The arugula-chomping would have to to wait. But I guess that is a pro, after all, because here I am eating arugula in June. And really, who cares in what month arugula is eaten? Especially if you've grown it yourself? Exactly.

So now it is June and I have a plethora of arugula. What to do with it all? Quite clearly I cannot countenance any of it going to waste. Shall I eat many salads? There must be something more interesting than that. The answer, I've found, lies in a two-pronged strategy for Responsible Arugula Dissemination and Consumption: (a) You give some arugula to your mother; rather, you turn her loose on the back porch with a pair of herb snips and tell her she can take what she can carry; then, (b) you make some arugula pesto.

This pesto is a study in opposites: rich and creamy but also bright and light, with reddish flecks of toasted almond bringing a lovely contrasting color to the sauce. Tonight I made three batches. Husband and I consumed half a batch, with the remainder going into the refrigerator for the (near) future. I was going to freeze some of it but, really, we are so totally going to eat all of it in the next week. I just have a feeling about these kinds of things.

Take that, long cold winter! I grew the arugula after all, despite your blustery protestations. Better late than never.



1/3 c. whole almonds, toasted
1 c. tightly-packed arugula
1/3 c. tightly-packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 clove garlic
6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 c. Pecorino cheese, grated, plus more to garnish
1 T. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2/3 c. olive oil

1 lb. pasta (I like long pasta with pesto, such as spaghetti, angel hair or fettuccine)

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet in a single layer and toast until golden brown and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the arugula, parsley, garlic, butter, cheese and lemon juice. Process until the ingredients are roughly chopped. With the food processor on, drizzle in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides of the processor and process a few seconds longer to incorporate everything into a paste. Place about half of the pesto into a serving bowl; set aside. (Store the remaining half-batch of pesto in the refrigerator or freezer; see below for a few tips.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente according to the package directions. Set a strainer or colander over a liquid measuring cup; drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking liquid. Toss the pasta with the pesto in the serving bowl, adding a little of the pasta water if the sauce doesn't seem loose enough. I usually add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of Pecorino cheese.

Each batch of pesto makes enough to dress about 2 lbs. of pasta. We usually cook 1 lb. at a time at our house, which theoretically serves 2-3 people. I said "theoretically." It really only serves 2. Anyway. We use half a batch of pesto on 1 lb. of pasta, then store the rest for later.

A few storage notes: To store, place the leftover pesto in an airtight container. Push a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pesto then cover with the lid of the container (this helps prevent the pesto from turning an unsatisfying shade of brown).

You can also freeze the pesto; I recommend doing so in ice cube trays so you can use just what you need without thawing the whole batch. Regardless if you're using leftover pesto that was stored in the refrigerator or freezer, do not heat it up before using it. Let it come to room temperature, then use reserved pasta cooking water to warm the pesto as you mix it with the cooked pasta.


Anonymous said...

Try fall sowing or letting arula self seed for earilest plants.

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Once again, I'd like to offer to adopt, or rent, your dad. The lettuce boxes are beautiful, and I'm green with envy.

Unknown said...

your blog is making me very have to start treating me better or I may stray

Dianne said...

I think some of my readers wouldn't mind if you strayed...more pantries and lettuce frames for them!

Now, don't get a big head. ;)

Meanwhile, can I pour you a glass of Chivas?

s. stockwell said...

We are so happy to find you. Arugala is so addictive. the scent the taste the feeling? we must say it grow year around like weeds here in Santa Barbara. So we use it all the the pesto. great idea. Best, s

Arlene Delloro said...

I love trying out new greens, new nuts, and new cheeses for pesto. This sounds like a winner.

Dianne said...

Lydia, I have to tell you that I asked Dad to help me with something this weekend (as usual), and he replied, "I don't know. I might be busy helping Lydia with something." :)

Arlene, thanks! I hope you enjoy....