There are two minor problems facing those who grow their own. The first is the issue that presents itself when faced with a glut. A failure to plan correctly can often leave the hapless gardener with a plethora of peas or a surfeit of strawberries which must then be eaten with every meal resulting in palate fatigue or preserved in some way. This is where pickling, freezing, jamming, smoking, salting and the like come in to their own and allow us to enjoy the fruits (or vegetables, for that matter) of our labour during the months when they are out of season. The second problem that we are discovering is how to look after ones plants whilst you are away for any length of time. After the many hours of care lavished upon them during their short existence, the prospect of returning from holiday to find a parched vegetable garden with the dried and rotting remains of what once were lush, green plants is somewhat depressing. I know that there are intricate irrigation systems involving timers and piping but sadly our budget barely stretches to buying seeds so that was out. I also know that it is possible to ask neighbours but having only recently moved to the area we felt it would be a little presumptive to begin a conversation with the words: ‘lovely to meet you, would you mind awfully watering our vegetable patch twice a day whilst we swan off around a distant European capital city. Thanks.’
As a result we were left with the unproven ‘soak and hope’ strategy for the vegetables that are yet to grace us with produce and the slightly less risky ‘use as much as possible’ strategy for the plants that were currently edible and would fail to survive four days of enforced neglect. Fortunately, this amounted to little more than the rocket, which, after a slow start had grown with a fervent vigour normally only seen with unwelcome and tenacious weeds. There was too much to make a simple salad and so we drew inspiration from a great Italian deli called Limoncello where they stock a tasty selection of pesto.
The plants yielded enough tasty green leaves for four or five generous handfuls which would hopefully make a happy bowlful of fresh green pesto to be dipped into and poured generously over pasta and pizzas for the next couple of days. In addition I grabbed a small handful of Greek basil from a plant that sits on our windowsill (the harsh East Anglian climate appears to be too fickle for the plant to survive outside) to add a hint of that classic taste. Since my first pesto making experience (which can be found here), I’ve insisted that the best way to do it is by hand so I set to work turning the pile of leaves into a finely chopped mass of deliciousness.
Once the rocket and basil were sufficiently decimated and the pile rendered down to about a tenth of its original size I added two cloves of garlic and a scant handful of pine nuts before getting to work with the knife again. By the time they had been incorporated, my wrist was beginning to feel the strain and a deep burn was manifesting itself at the base of my thumb, I guessed that this was a good sign and that it was now time for the parmesan which was grated over in fine, gentle curls – melting into the mass with a soft enthusiasm. With a pesto, the olive oil acts like a glue, bringing the disparate components together as well as adding a tone of its own. It is like a mutual friend at an awkward party that manages to bring out the best in each of the guests, whose presence contributes more than it should. It allows the pesto to transcend its ingredients and take on a completely new characteristic. In short, it is essential and once added, the resultant sauce was a total success: subtle enough to be eaten solely with fresh bread but punchy enough to be stirred into fresh pasta or fried mushrooms at the last minute and served on toasted sourdough which is how I had it for lunch the following day. Definitely one to try again.
This post was written for the June Grow Your Own blogging event, details of which can be found here.
For Limoncello, Cambridge click here (they do mail order)