Something about making pesto brings me closer to the person I was created to be, I think. I don't sew. I don't knit. I don't paint or make furniture. I'm not even much of a baker, although I do enjoy baking cookies or other goodies occasionally. In late summer, however, I make pesto, and I feel creative and calm and contemplative.
I'm not sure when I first made pesto, but my best memories of doing so date from our days at Sweetwater Farm, where I had a large herb garden, which included a variety of basil plants. Mainly sweet basil, but also globe and Thai and lemon and purple ruffles. On more than one August morning I filled my gathering basket with basil and then washed it all thoroughly in a large graniteware basin before plucking off the leaves and arranging them on vintage white embroidered dish towels spread on the harvest table.
On the counter --I had only one, but standing there I could look out the window to the gardens and the fenced meadow where our animals grazed--I assembled all my ingredients and utensils, including a green Depression glass measuring cup for the oils. A pesto-making marathon. How satisfying to see the growing pile of plastic bags full of rich green pesto ready for the freezer. And oh, the aroma--a slightly peppery smell, earthy and pungent and not quite what one would expect in a Midwestern farmhouse. Perhaps I had time travelled to another lifetime in Tuscany.
Now I only have a few basil plants which Bruce planted in a pot-enough for a mere two batches of pesto, but Sunday I bought four big batches from a farmer who sells produce between services at church. Only $1.00 a bunch. I intend to buy more next week.
I no longer have a harvest table and instead of looking out upon our farm vista, I look into a wall of open shelving, but the aroma is the same. The fresh, almost other-wordly taste is the same, and for an hour or so I am free of concerns or plans. I think of times I have lit candles and poured wine and served pesto to friends and family.
Pesto inspires conversation full of connection and laughter and shared memories. I know there will be more of those.
Making pesto is a contemplative practice for me, reminding me of the basics. Giving thanks to the earth. Feeding and nurturing others. Doing something that involves my heart and body and not just my mind. Being mindful of the present moment. Finding the sacred, the holy in ordinary acts.
There are other kitchen moments when I feel this same sense of the Divine--when I bake cherry walnut bread at Christmas time or when I plan the menu for a special gathering or when I prepare a meal for someone recovering from surgery or cancer treatment. Sometimes I am even open and full of gratitude at the most ordinary of times, such as fixing our grandson a ham and cheese sandwich or making a list for yet another trip to the grocery store.
What a blessed life I have.
Do you experience any contemplative kitchen moments? I would love to know.
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
6 garlic cloves
1 cup pecan or walnuts
1/2 cup olive oil mixed with 1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper
Combine basil, nuts, and garlic in a food processor and chop coarsely.
With motor running add oils in slow, steady stream.
Shut motor off and add cheeses, and salt and pepper to taste.
If you want to freeze, you can either store in freezer bags flat in the freezer or you can spoon into ice cube trays and use the pesto one cube at a time.
Makes about 2 cups.