By Tommy C. Simmons, an enthusiastic cook
Photograph by Tommy C. Simmons
Normally I'm pulling up my basil plants by the end of September. Once sweet basil starts flowering, I think the flavor of the already pungent herb gets too bitter for my palate. This year was different. Not only are my basil plants still lush and green, they haven't gotten too leggy as they continue to grow.
Cool nights and frequent watering helped extend the basil season and I'm happy to still be plucking fresh basil leaves to incorporate in salads and sandwiches.
Basil-based pesto tossed with pasta or rice creates a tasty, quick-fix supper.
This week I made pesto, substituting a handful of almonds from a can of salted mixed nuts for pine nuts, which are usually pureed with the basil leaves, olive oil and Parmesan cheese. The almonds gave the pesto a lighter, less earthy taste. I liked the combo and hope basil-loving gardeners will enjoy the change, too.
Home kitchen-tested recipe
Pasta with Pesto
Makes 2 cups. Recipe is adapted from a classic Pesto recipe featured in "River Road Recipes IV: Warm Welcomes" published by the Junior League of Baton Rouge.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and patted dry
4 garlic cloves, chopped
½ to ¾ cup whole roasted and salted almonds
¾ cup virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
Dash of cayenne red pepper
Dash of Tabasco pepper sauce
Hot cooked pasta of choice
Process the cleaned basil leaves, garlic and almonds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade or in batches in a blender until finely chopped.
Add the olive oil gradually, processing constantly until incorporated.
Add the Parmesan and Romano cheese, salt, black pepper, red pepper and Tabasco and process just until combined.
Spoon approximately ½ to ¾ cup of pesto over hot cooked pasta to serve. Store leftover pesto, covered, in the refrigerator. You can also freeze pesto for future use.
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