Saturday didn’t turn out the way that I thought it would.
On Friday, I walked down to the farmer’s market, hoping to load up on fresh basil for our annual pesto-making harvest. Last year, we didn’t make pesto because we missed the August basil season. And the year before, we had been displaced from our pesto-making facility by a flood.
And Friday, I was afraid that we’d miss year three because I couldn’t find a single booth that had basil. Not one, not even in garnishing quantities. The second-largest booth said that they hadn’t even planted it this year. But Fridays are not Saturdays at the farmer’s market and the largest booth was missing.
Saturday was a glorious day but I woke up feeling unwell. I skipped yoga, skipped my walk, and told myself to take it easy, then remembered that I had a hair appointment downtown. Ok, go to the appointment, then come straight home. But getting my hair done always lifts my spirits and the weather was so perfect absolutely perfect, that I wandered north and ended up at the Farmer’s market. The large booth was there. They had basil. I called my husband.
“Get a case,” he said, “and three heads of garlic. I’ll pick up the other ingredients.”
So I did.
A case is a lot of basil. And it becomes even more when you are carrying it home on the subway.
When my husband got home and looked at the case, his eyes bugged out. “That’s a bigger case than I’ve gotten in the past,” he said, “I don’t think we have enough cheese. Or garlic. Or butter.”
Butter?!? You are saying. You put butter in your pesto?
Oh, yes. This is an actual recipe from Bugliosi’s (sadly out-of-print) pasta book, where it is paired with a pasta called Silk Handkerchiefs because it is so delicate (ingredients: flour, white wine). The sheets are rolled as thin as a silk-handkerchief, then dropped into boiling water for less than a minute and fished out again. They melt in your mouth and are the perfect pairing for the rich, garlicky pesto. We made the silk handkerchiefs only a handful of times because they can be laborious but the pesto recipe stuck, mainly because you can spread it on bread. Delicious.
So yes, butter. We picked leaves off basil for two hours then took a break so he could take his mom through her daily PT, which he does by Skype. Me, to return to the grocery store to pick up 2 more heads of garlic, another 2 pounds of parm, and 2.5 more pounds of butter. At this point, we had picked leaves off about a quarter of the box. Our feet and backs hurt from standing but there is no comfortable ways to pick leaves off basil. This is a job, we decided, that should be done at the lake house where there are children to do it, when they aren’t shucking corn. (Pesto dripping down freshly grilled corn… mmmmm.)
When I returned, he was just wrapping up PT and we resumed leaf-picking.
“At some point,” I said, tummy grumbling, “We should stop and have dinner. I had a light lunch –”
“I didn’t get breakfast,” he interrupted.
“– And we have those leftovers from last night that we need to finish.”
“We’ll have pasta pesto for dinner,” he said. And we kept picking leaves.
At 7:30, we turned off Pandora and turned on the Jets game. We couldn’t see the screen but we could hear the Jets losing. Perhaps it was a blessing that we hadn’t finished in time to watch the game.
My husband said, “I think we’re going to need more butter, parm, and garlic”
“And olive oil.” He had bought a huge tin of olive oil but if we were buying more of the others I assumed we’d need more oil, too.
“Maybe,” he said and we kept leaf-picking.
Usually I miss this stage of pesto, because he picks up the basil while I am out on a long walk. I pick up the other ingredients on my way home and arrive just after he finishes picking leaves. He said he was glad I was home to help this time; I made a mental note not to be home next year. Now that I knew how much labor is required, my mind returned to one of the first years he made pesto, the year that my apartment had flooded, from above, dripping into the pesto, ruining it. It had seemed a little sad at the time – especially in comparison with the greater loss. Now, with the distance of time, it seemed a tragedy.
A little after 8, we finished picking the leaves, weighed them (5#), and had an argument. It was inevitable since we had pushed dinner off. I had already walked a lot on a day that I was supposed to be taking it easy because I didn’t feel well. He wanted to start assembly – a process that required our largest stock pot to hold the work in progress. I wanted to eat leftovers and put my feet up.
Instead I walked to the grocery store – the good grocery store with real parm (not the grocery store in our building that only has plastic parm) but unfortunately not the cheese market that I love where they grate the parm for you, fresh, so you don’t have to do it yourself or rather I don’t have to do it myself since that somehow ends up being my job most of the time. And then walked home and walked back to the grocery store because we had been arguing so much that I had forgotten my credit card. The good grocery store is a quarter mile away.
When I got home, I peeled garlic. A total of 135 cloves of garlic.
Well, this is an annual supply. Based on past experience, we’ll indulge in pesto on everything for the first 2-3 weeks, then the weather will break and we’ll reintroduce other foods into our diets. This amount of pesto, managed effectively and alternated with winter’s mushroom pesto, will last us until early summer 2020. Then we’ll haunt the farmers markets, lurking like dogs with our tongues hanging out, until early August when basil will be in season again.
He madly combined, tasted, tinkered with proportion like a mad scientist. I pulled down and cleaned our supply of pesto containers, saved year after year. And dutifully tasted, saying, because I was tired and I don’t have his discerning palate, “Tastes perfect, dear.” A comment he takes with a grain of salt – “More salt! That’s what it needs!” — and continues tinkering. I ate some pretzels and cleared space in the freezer.
Our freezer is like a junk-drawer, full of things that you hold onto because you are sure that someday, some fine day, you will use all those parm rinds that you saved because you read somewhere that you can use them when you make your own stock – something you never do because, well, you don’t. Or the pomegranate seeds that your dad gave you ten years ago that we’re holding onto out of sentimental value? But arguing about the freezer contents is like arguing about the contents of your storage unit and not to be embarked upon when you are starving and your kitchen, your home, the hallway down to the elevator, smell like basil and garlic and all you can think about is pesto, glorious pesto.
To shorten the story, we finally finished the pesto around 11:30 pm. Too exhausted to make pasta-pesto, we broke off pieces of sourdough bread and mopped up the remains from the food processor bowl and the vat we had used to hold the work in progress, stowed the completed containers, took some ibuprofen, and fell into bed.
And dreamed of pesto. Pesto on toast, with thinly sliced mozzarella, and a poached egg. Pesto on pasta. Pesto on pizza with fresh summer tomato. A spoonful of pesto swirled into creamy tomato soup.