The smell of basil is the smell of summer.
And not just because it is readily available in the months when the sun is out more often than not and the days are long.
It’s also because I will forever associate the smell of basil with my grandfather and summer afternoons in his studio when we would make pesto.
He had a greenhouse that somehow managed to produce a never-ending supply of this fragrant herb. (Along with peppers and tomatoes that tasted like tomatoes. I loved eating them when their skins were still warm from being inside the hothouse; their taste was unparalleled.) So pesto was not just a treat that could be made with basil, it was a way of harvesting and putting to use mass quantities of the stuff.
The remaining ingredients, he always had on hand. Heads of papery garlic always sat in a bowl on the work table that separated the kitchen from the rest of the studio. Parsley was harvested from a large pot on the front deck. As a man who wished he was Italian, olive oil and parmesan were always part of the pantry.
He would store the pesto in baby jars in the freezer, sending a few home with me at the end of my visits to the island.
I started making my own pesto a couple of years ago, though in infinitely smaller batches since I have no garden nor greenhouse and must depend on the bags of basil from the farmer’s market. But I, like him, freeze what I don’t think I’ll quickly consume. Then, in the depths of winter, when the sun goes down before I get home from work and the wind can chill me to the bones, I can pull it out. I add it to soups or pasta sauces or cook it with a little cream and pour over pasta with a fresh few grates of Parmesan. In these small ways, I bring back the summer, and the smells and sounds of being with my grandfather.
There are a million variations on pesto recipes. This is one I like, which I adapted from two recipes.
- 2 cups packed basil
- 1/2 cup parsley
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- pinch or two pepper (I just do a few grinds)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Blitz two or three times to get it going, then turn on and let run while drizzling oil in. Stop when all the oil is incorporated but before it gets too thin. I like mine to still have a slightly chunky feel to it.