Summer is almost over and we are missing Italy and our friends there. All we could do this year was watch videos of the empty Italian cities and people singing from their balconies. A friend emailed pictures of the deserted streets of Naples, adding that, “A populace that doesn’t observe laws, now is observing the law.”
Another friend sent the link to a documentary about doctors and a hospital fighting Covid-19 in northern Italy. All this has brought us to tears. Yet, the Italian spirit endures.
It goes without stating that we couldn’t travel this year. I know it is frivolous to lament a missed vacation. Sometimes I feel that all that can be said about the direness of this epidemic has already been said. I have nothing more add. It is a sad and frightening time for everyone. Isolated, we all yearn to see our families and friends. This plague touches us all, and we are doing what we can to brave it.
Yet here in Long Island life seems to go on. Especially in Jim’s garden. As if to assert, “See, I will continue to nourish you,” his herb patch is thriving. The basil has never been so lush. One of the ways I could use all this basil was to make pesto sauce.
I know well that there are many versions of pesto online and they result in a wide variety of sauces. Some years ago when I bought some fresh basil at the local farmers’ market – more basil than I knew what to do with. I muddled my way through making pesto and we loved it. I wrote down what I did and have followed this recipe ever since.
It is simple, comprising only five ingredients – basil, pignoli nuts, olive oil, garlic and pecorino romano. (I leave out salt, which everyone may add as they prefer.)
Thinking of how the Mediterranean diet is healthful and realizing these ingredients are all implicit to Italian cuisine, I did my best to discover the nutrition benefit for each one.
Basil: An anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial. It is rich in vitamin A and likewise contains vitamin K, potassium, manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron.
Pignoli Nuts: Contain monounsaturated fatty acids and might help reduce bad cholesterol, while increasing the good. They are high in vitamins E and B complex and an excellent source of minerals as well.
[Jim says these might break the budget.]
Olive Oil: Also helps prevent inflammation and maintain cholesterol balance. It too is high in vitamin E.
Garlic: Also a source of minerals potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium and in vitamins B6 and C. When cut, the bulbs generate allicin, which aids in reducing risk of heart disease and may be an anti-bacterial and anti-viral.
[Jim says that Italians have always known that garlic is good for everything.]
Pecorino romano: I checked out http://www.bio-medicine.org/ for information on this sheep’s milk cheese. They say it enhances the immune system and even those who are lactose intolerant can eat it.
[When I originally made pesto, I couldn’t have dairy products, so I served the pecorino on the side. Everyone added as much as they wanted. ]
So it is with hopeful thoughts of delicious food and friendship that I offer my recipe for pesto.
First, if you are fortunate, you just go to your herb garden and pick basil. Be sure not to take the whole plant. Cut it with clippers right above the small leaves at the bottom of the stalk. That way, the plant keeps growing rather than going to seed. If you don’t have room outdoors, buy a pot of basil and nurture it. It will flourish in an apartment too.
Second, have your significant other grate the cheese.
Now, to create the sauce:
2 cups basil leaves 1/2 cup pignoli nuts
1/4 cup olive oil 3 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup pecorino romano, grated Salt to taste
Place basil, pignoli nuts, garlic and salt (if you wish to use it) in a blender or food processor. Slowly puree while adding olive oil in a steady stream.
Put pureed mixture into a bowl and add the grated cheese.
Yield: 1 cup.
Enjoy with pasta or on gnocchi. Or with anything you like.