Monday, July 13, 2009

Seven simple ingredients.

Whenever I go up north to visit my family we always end up going out to eat at some point, always at the same restaurant. Everyone knows what it is, it has been around forever. They used to have parrots and chocolate mousse and gigantic orders of nachos when I was a kid but now the waitresses just look like they are going to a club right after their lunch shift but the food is [usually] still good. This has nothing to do with the restaurant though; this has to do with how my dad orders his meal there. Always, always, he orders “the lowly chicken”, despite the fact that the chicken special changes regularly and there is always a fancy little title for it.
I love this.
“The chicken, please”. Perhaps this reminds me of my love of the simple?
It makes me think about when we didn’t have cell phones that could also take pictures and an Ipod that could find out the address of the restaurant – we used the yellow pages instead. Even if the menu says ‘Mediterranean chicken with a garlic and thyme white wine reduction’ there is no need to recite that. The waitress knows what you are talking about.
Comparatively, in discussions of your own food at home there is no need to divulge everything in your dish.
“What are we having for dinner?”
It leaves a bit of mystery to your meal and the diners will obviously discover upon their first bite that it tastes like white wine and garlic. And perhaps a bit like it came from the Mediterranean? I love a bit of mystery, and I love eating well... And I feel strongly about minimalism with our food.
Way cool, dad!

So feeding off the homage to simple, I’m going to talk about pesto again.
The other day I woke up late to a sunny morning and wandered onto the patio to inspect our plants. It was burning hot outside already and while I had a chat with some flowers, I noticed that the basil was growing like gangbusters*. The only thing I know to do with heap loads of fresh basil is make pesto. So that’s what I did. Right after I called my friend Kim to come over for breakfast.
A quick trip to the grocery store provided eggs, pine nuts and parmesan cheese (as well as a quick chat with the cute guy who lives two floors below us – poor guy was only buying grapefruit for breakfast).
I put the kettle on and went out to pick all the basil.

After I marvelled at its color and how much I had grown, I stuffed it all into the blender. I have given a pesto recipe before, but here's a refresher on how you do it:
Three cloves of garlic, peeled (I usually overdose a tad - I love the buzz)
As much fresh basil you can get your hands on
Around a third of a cup of pine nuts (toasted will bring out their flavour**)
The same amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Olive Oil, Salt and Pepper
Start whizzing it all up (with a hand blender, mortar and pestle - whichever you choose) and slowly pour olive oil in until it slowly becomes the consistency of pesto.
~A side note – I made some for Kim without cheese as she’s a lactose free kinda gal and it was incredible. The green was that much richer and the flavour of the spicy basil wasn’t mellowed at all by the cheese. It was awesome.

One taste of the bright green pesto made you stop in your tracks and savour the taste. The garlic was softened by the oil and the cheese, the nuttiness was there from the pine nuts, and then the basil was an explosion. I attributed all the flavour to the freshness of the basil. That, and the simplicity of the recipe. Seven ingredients, all stuff that tastes great on its own - no way can you go wrong. Complexity will only muck things up. If you want pesto, this is the pesto you want.

By this time Kim was in the kitchen with me eating it by the spoonful, so I called an end to that and stirred some into the scrambled eggs while they cooked, made some toast, poured the (iced) tea and we ate breakfast on the couch by the fan (it was way too hot to be on the patio!). Best breakfast ever!

*My secret to success? Plant the basil with tomato plants, it truly does the trick. I started some basil seeds way back when and they really took their time taking off. They spent months on my bedroom windowsill, baking in the springtime sun, and once they were outside still dragged their heels a bit. But when a neighbour who was going away for the summer gave me some of her tomatoes to look after, I popped them all into some pots together and it’s been true love ever since.

**How do you toast pine nuts (and all other nuts while you are at it)? Two ways:
1. Put them in a frying pan over low/med heat, give them lots of attention by swirling them and tossing them around almost constantly and slowly let them brown.
2. Put them on a baking sheet on low heat in the oven (200F or so), again, give them lots of attention, and let them brown.
~They burn ridiculously easily!!~
Both ways will bring out the nutty flavour and make anything you use them in taste even better.

The moral of my story? Simplify your ingredients and spend time with those ingredients to make them the best they possibly can be and the taste of your food will be out of this world.

What did Kim and I do after breakfast? We shook up a thermos full of watermelon mojitos (watermelon left over from Canada Day and oodles of fresh mint from the garden!) and headed to Jericho Beach for the rest of the day.


Lastly, I wrote this while listening to The Lost Fingers . Check them out!

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