One of summer’s many gifts is the pleasure of eating freshly picked cucumbers and tomatoes or using them along with swiss chard, kale, eggplant, peppers, and a number of the herbs I grow in a small section of my backyard plot to make colorful salads and seasonal main dishes. For the sake of convenience and also for low maintenance decor on our sunny deck, I keep a few pots of mixed herbs with a stray flower or two for color. This year, the rosemary, sage, and thyme are doing particularly well.
One of Aunt Annie’s many gifts was her ability to create satisfying dishes from humble garden ingredients. After her husband, my Uncle Will, retired from his demanding job as radio and communications expert who participated in the atomic testing in the Pacific during the Cold War, he became an avid organic gardener. He didn’t talk much about his motivation for taking this approach, but he did confide to a cousin that if he had his life to live over again, he might not choose to be involved in an endeavor that later proved to be so destructive to the environment. Perhaps his amazing garden, built on principles faithful to the goal of doing no harm to the earth’s fragile ecosystem, was a small way to make amends. He taught me to feed my seedlings manure tea and dress them with compost rather than chemicals and exactly when to harvest vegetables to increase the yield. Uncle Will also grew gorgeous perennials, all carefully arranged to add color to his front and side yards throughout the growing season.
Many of the recipes in my memory box were hand written by Aunt Annie straight from her memory and Uncle Will’s garden. Marinara sauce, eggplant Parmesan, and, as she called it, basil sauce are three of my favorites. I can picture her right now sitting in a quiet corner of my kitchen, chatting about family and friends, while at the same time carefully writing out the directions for her signature recipes. I have a jar of her pesto in my freezer right now to use the next time my family asks for a summer staple – pasta pesto salad. The pesto is delicious on hot pasta as well. It also makes a tasty sandwich spread. Here are Aunt Annie’s easy directions for her basil sauce.
Basil Sauce (Pesto)
2 cups of loosely packed basil leaves
2 medium cloves of peeled garlic
1 Tbsp pine nuts, walnuts, or raw slivered almonds (optional)
1 Tbsp Romano cheese
1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
3/4 to 1 cup of olive oil
Roughly chop the garlic, basil, and nuts if using. Place in a blender or food processor and pulse a few times. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil, the cheeses, and the salt. Blend the ingredients while adding enough of the rest of the olive to reach the consistency you desire.