Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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September 5, 2013

Carrie Stambaugh: Delighting in pesto process: 09/06/13

ASHLAND — It’s pesto season. The time of year when I live to eat pesto and scramble against the impending fall to preserve as much of the aromatic summer spread as possible.

The process starts in spring when I cast handfuls of seeds into my tomato patch and wait with anticipation for the little plants to sprout and grow. All summer I thin the plants, using chopped leaves in my summer vegetable casseroles or to garnish gazpacho. I also love wrapping leaves around slices of the fresh warm tomatoes they have helped to flavor and shavings of fresh mozzarella.

By August and into early September, the plants have reached their peak size and begin to flower. By this point, I am in full-blown pesto production mode.

My goal: to preserve as much of the flavorful summer concoction to savor during the cold, brown months. My extended family has also developed a taste for pesto — so I must pad my stash with enough jars to keep their cravings satisfied, too.  I once caught my mother, hand in the freezer, trying to sneak home with a few extra jars!

During pesto season, my kitchen is in a constant state of chaos. Boxes of jars litter the counter tops or lean in precarious columns on window sills. My refrigerator contains more blocks of cheese than seems reasonable and I buy olive oil by the jug and pinenuts by the carton.

The stove top is full with pots of water for blanching and sanitizing jars. Even my stainless steel trash can plays a role, topped with a towel and pushed close to the chopping block. It serves as the ice water bath station.

For weeks each evening after work I race against the setting sun to harvest arm fulls of basil plants from my garden. Then I spend the twilight standing over the sink, rinsing and plucking the tender green leaves from their stems.

Filling my two quart measuring cups several times with the leaves can take hours, but preparing the rest of the spread takes minutes with the help of my food processor.

Then comes the blanching, ice water bath and the draining. Before long, the brilliant green leaves are added and the processor whirls back to life.

I relish in the final step: adding the olive oil. As the liquid goes in all the separate ingredients are transformed into a uniform smooth green puree.

I can’t help but immediately dip a spoon in to taste it before adding salt. Then I have to taste it again, of course.

Some nights I put off dinner until this point. Then I pour a glass of wine and spread pesto on torn bread pieces before I’ve even packed the first jar.

The pesto is simply too good not to eat at its freshest.

After I’ve finally packed the jars and sealed them, I always make sure to eat the last specks of pesto off the spatula before putting it in the sink.

I am always delighted when there’s just a little too much extra for the last jar, so I can justify eating a few more spoonfuls.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at (606) 326-2653.

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