Wednesday, August 17, 2011

It IS Easy Being Green

The markets here in Aix en Provence are exploding...bursting with choice, local, fruits, vegetables and herbs. But the most magnificent thing about les marchés (read more about our markets in Aix here) in August, is they're not exploding with people. There's a laziness to the days right now that I love. Everyone is on vacation, including many of the venders. And I can move around the market without getting stepped on or jostled and I have the opportunity to converse with the venders about such earth-shattering subjects as the merits of Tahitian versus Madagascar vanilla beans.  I want to stay away from the markets...I really do. Because I always buy more than I can consume in a day or two...just because it's beautiful... and ripe...and perfect. I have become pretty adept at taking veggies almost past their prime and turning them into something that I can at least stick in the freezer. I see, as I'm writing this, that there is a red pepper in the basket in front of me that is starting to shrivel with age. It will go in the broiler today with some olive oil and get itself roasted back to a new form of perfection.  I wish I could do that for myself! Oh yes, I guess I could. It's called a chemical peel!

Anyway, 2 weeks ago on a rainy, gray day I was perusing the market...again for nothing in particular. I passed a vender who happened to have a big fat, glorious pile of basil. And it was the thick-leaved, shiny variety (they call it Italian basil here) that I love to use for pesto. Summer pesto is a tradition at my house and when this herb is  thick and fragrant, before it flowers, one has to grab the moment. Which I did this day. I filled a sack and changed my afternoon plans.

Pesto was always one of my kids' favorites. On pasta, on crackers, on a sandwich, with tomatoes...whatever. And the wonderful thing about pesto is it makes basil preservable. It freezes like a dream, thaws fast and brings the late lazy days of summer back to mind when one is buried up to the neck in snow. Of course, here in the south, I don't need to worry about the snow thing but...winter is matter how it presents itself.

I'm low on good kitchen tools here but I did buy a food processor. My splurge was really the fault of a fellow blogger named Sharon, and her citrus tart recipe but I did have pesto in mind when I bought it. And you really need a food processor for this. Unless you're a kitchen saint...or nuts. So here's our favorite pesto recipe.


4 C. well packed basil leaves (this does not mean well packed as in brown sugar. But you can push it down a bit. Bruising won't matter much. It won't have time to lose it's flavor).

1/2 C. olive oil

2 or 3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 to 1/3 C roasted pine nuts (do not skip the roasting step. This makes a world of difference in the flavor.)

1/4 C. grated parmesan cheese (yes, I mean buy a good quality wedge and grate it in the food processor)

1/4 C. grated asiago or pecorino cheese (same as above)

Wash and dry the leaves. Make sure they're good and dry by flinging them around in a towel or running them through the spin cycle of the washer (in a towel) ....yes you heard me. A top-load washing machine is the BEST kitchen tool. Do not try it in a front-loader (I tried that at my friend Kerry's house one time and she was picking spinach out of her underwear for a month). Then spread them out on a towel to dry.

Puree the leaves with a food processor. Add the oil, garlic and pine nuts and process until a paste forms. Then add the cheese and just process to blend.

That's it. Perfect pesto. I leave one batch in the fridge for dinner and the rest is frozen in 1/4 C. portions in freezer bags. I NEVER make one's always at least 4. And it's so comforting to have a stack of flat little green bags in the freezer. For that moment when....

Just for extra fun, here's a great recipe using pesto. I haven't got any photos. Philadelphia Cream Cheese has just recently come to France and I can only get it at the big supermarkets. But take my word for it, unmolded, this is a beautiful addition to an apero table;  it's green, red and white stripes singing summer.

Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato Torta

1 ½ pkgs (8 oz. each) cream cheese           
            into chunks
 ½ C. unsalted butter, into chunks
8 oz. dried tomatoes                                    
fresh basil leaves for garnish

 In a small bowl, cover tomatoes with boiling water and let them stand 2-5 minutes, or until softened.  Drain well and chop.  Line a mold or bowl with plastic wrap, letting ends hang over.  Layer half cream cheese mixture, half of the pesto and half dried tomatoes.  Repeat layers.  Fold ends of wrap over top and refrigerate at least two hours.  To serve, invert and remove plastic wrap.  Garnish with basil leaves and serve with crackers or toasts.

These freeze beautifully so I make two in soup bowl sized molds and one goes in the freezer for the inevitable moment when someone arrives for a drink and all I've got is old cereal and sour milk.

Bon Appetit!


The pesto recipe looks amazingly like one at Epicurious. Who knows, maybe that's where I got it back in the '80s...but I doubt it. I'm sure they stole it from me! The Torta recipe, if memory serves me right, came from my friend Steve Immerman. Thanks Steve. I've used it a million times.


  1. A sneaky attempt to win the Yum, Yum,Fill My Tum Award next week?

    All the best


    P.S. You still haven't let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, about your project.....

    P.P.S. I'm dying of curiosity here!

    P.P.P.S. I'm almost in Intensive Care!

  2. A sneaky attempt to win the Yum, Yum,Fill My Tum Award next week?

    All the best


    P.S. You still haven't let the cat out of the bag, so to speak, about your project.....

    P.P.S. I'm dying of curiosity here!

    P.P.P.S. I'm almost in Intensive Care!

  3. Geez, Keith, You double commented and I double approved. And I damned well better win some award soon. Enough of the "almost winning an award" stuff. What's a girl need to do. The project isn't top's just not complete. So I'm waiting. I'll send you flowers at the hospital!

  4. I freeze my pesto using ice cubes trays. And the best is garlic scape pesto. I use almonds because my other is allergic to pine nuts and walnuts. Works well.
    I also make a lot of dried tomatoes while the garden is churning them out.
    I miss the markets in France!

  5. Basil grows well here, so I brought back pine nuts to make pesto as we use it in quantity..
    Do you store the leaves in olive oil, too?
    I used to do this in France to use when fresh basil wasn't in the garden and I needed basil for a recipe. It goes a bit like seaweed but the flavour is fine...and the oil's not bad either!

    I'm going to make that torta this weekend...if I can wait that long.

    As for book...I'm ploughing along with it but have decided to move myself and laptop to the pigsty to be out of range of calls for tea and only remains to alert the pig to this plan...

  6. That pesto looks so delicious, but I can excuse myself from making it because I do not have a food processor. The tart though, that is tempting... Enjoy the markets and the lack of winter and the beautiful scenery and all those French things.

  7. Here's a twist on pesto: add a little sweet vermouth before you blend it all! It adds a little liquid, and takes away the maybe-too-oily quality. Anyway , my family loves it!!

  8. Took the torta to a neighbor's house one week and the recipe the sister makes it LA. You are a woman of influence. Miss you.

  9. Your blog gets great comments. Who knew about adding vermouth? I'll try that as well as roasting the pine nuts - which I haven't been doing. I enjoy making my own pesto, and am always looking for new ways to use it. Sometimes I add a cube,(I tend to freeze it in ice cube trays as well), to spaghetti sauce or winter soup. It gives the dish that wonder summertime hit of basil that isn't the same when using dried. Your basil looks so beautiful that I'd probably put vases of it in every room!

  10. Oh nummy! My basil plant is no longer safe from my scissors after reading this.

  11. Great ideas you guys.

    Zuleme- ice cube trays. That's how I used to store my homeade baby food. Great idea. And I would so miss the markets in France if I wasn't here. They're a part of my everyday life.

    Fly- I know I can preserve basil that way. But I have found little cans of frozen basil at the grocery...and this works really well. Dried basil is simply not basil, is it? As for the book...good girl! I can't wait. And a pigsty is the answer, eh? I get so DISTRACTED. I sort of look at my apartment as a pigsty but that doesn't seem to be working.

    Paulita-it will work in a smaller batches. You have one of those? As for the weather, I always go back to the midwest at's my version of self-flagellation in repentance for my living in such a great place!

    LibbY-great idea. I'll try it.

    Sara-I think that's Sara! It's a keeper. And it's apparently being kept all over. Miss you too.

    Renee-this ice cube tray idea rocks. I wish it was from my garden but all I can have on the terrace is a couple of pots for daily use. But hey! Why work for it so hard when I can get it cheap at the market?

    Lisa-I hope it's only the basil that's not safe from your scissors!

  12. Yum I love the flavour of basil and so will try this recipe - sounds easy peasy Delana thanks for sharing - I'm clicking over to
    Sharon's site to find that citrus tart.
    Happy Monday!

  13. I just love this pesto recipe delana, and now I feel far less guilty about having FORCED you to buy the mixer!

    I'll be doing this tomorrow!


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