Thursday, March 13, 2008

Homemade Pesto from homegrown Basil - its perfect

I have expressed my pleasure in seeing the little green leaves appear in winter over my basil plant. I have to now express my pleasure in actually making my first pesto with the basil on my windowsill. Over the last several months I have pruned my basil plant incorrectly but the plant has sustained my torture.

The right way to prune your basil for a fuller plant:
Don’t just pluck the leaves from the top, cut off the top 4 leaves with the branch right above the next potential growth node. If you don’t you shall experience something I did. A taller less fuller growing basil.

Storing Basil:
Unlike rosemary or lavender you cant really dry and store basil. You have to take the opptosite route. My personal way of preserving my growing treasure was to coat the leaves in olive oil and freeze it in a container. After about 3 months of growing and harvesting my produce I had about 3 cups of basil leaves. I was waiting all these months to make my own fresh pesto. And trust me it tastes amazing.

My amazing pesto:
So I referred to several sites to get my perfect recipe. I found a great blog on how to make Pesto like an Italian grandmother. I knew it then, that this would be it. The ingredient list:

1) 3 cups of frozen and some fresh basil
2) 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (when stored in olive oil, the garlic flavor tends to become much more stronger than anticipated, so be careful)
3) 2 tablespoons of roasted pine nuts (substitutes: macademia nuts, walnuts or almonds)
4) Salt
5) Olive oil
Note: I choose to leave out the cheese as without it you can store your pesto in the refrigerator for a longer time (5 days or more vs. having to consume it in 3 days).

Process – as per the Italian Grandmother: As our Italian friend mentions in her blog:
"Most of the pesto you encounter here in the U.S. is different for a few reasons. First off, most of what you see here is made by machine, usually a food processor or hand blender. This holds true even if it is homemade. Don't get me wrong, it usually tastes good, but because the ingredients aren't hand chopped you end up with an texture that is more like like a moist paste and there little to no definition between ingredients.
During my lesson I quickly began to realize chopping all the ingredients by hand and not blending them is key because this prevents the ingredients from becoming a completely homogenized emulsion or paste. When you dress a pasta with a pesto that has been hand chopped the miniscule flecks of basil will separate from the olive oil in places, you get definition between ingredients, and bright flavors pop in a way they don't when they've been blended into one ."

Sunday, January 27, 2008

.......Gardenias and me live happily every after.

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I grew up in Mumbai, India, in one of its very prominent suburbs called Parle. Near our house was the Parle Biscuit Factory that added a sweet fragrance in the air every now and then. Most of the dwellers in the apartment building were the perfect example of the growing middleclass population in Mumbai. We had a great playground in the building with a large palm tree, two mango trees, a chicku tree (Sapota) and then the branches of the gardenia just crossed into our building walls from the neighbourhood.

The gardenia was a mystery. It grew in the sewer running between the two walls of the neighbourhood, but it still grew the most amazing fragrant white glossy flowers. They grew in large numbers on the large bush. The old lady living in a hut next to the plant (more than a shack) seemed to have taken the sole ownership of the it. She would not let anyone pluck flowers or touch the branches without her clear permit. At times my maid would stretch his arms to get me the flowers, sometimes I walked up to the old lady with a sweet smile to request one. She was mean, but she was kind at the same time. I often took the flowers for my teachers, who loved them, but didn’t care for them as much as I did. I still took, them, to show my respect. I was a good child, don’t you think? I moved out of this apartment building after 14 years of living there, but I remember every year, there were always a bounty of flowers on this plant and they seem to have increased in fragrance every year.

This is the sole reason I grow gardenia’s in my New York apartment, it brings back those wonderful memories, of the old lady, of my childhood. Some great memories they were!