Of Pesto and Piccalilli
It’s time to put the summer garden to bed. Technically, it’s still summer and technically, summer veggies are still growing, but for our garden---well, her heart is just not in it any longer. It’s not entirely the fault of our garden. There were a couple of very hot, dry weeks in our neck of the woods and we were so busy with other things that our attention slipped just a little too long. So we harvest the last green tomatoes and pull the withering vines, snip bunches of basil and take the remaining banana peppers off the bush. We’re still clipping okra every day and wondering how the “dwarf” variety we planted got to grow over six foot tall. Once the beds are cleared we will add some compost and turn them. A couple of weeks from now it will be time to put in our fall crops. Turnip, collards, kale, onions and arugula to name a few.
Gardeners always have one eye toward the future. But what to do with all that basil? That’s an easy one. Pesto! It’s quick, easy, lasts forever and is so delicious and versatile. Did you know that the word PESTO is not so much a noun as a verb? It is the past participle of the Italian verb PESTARE which means to pound or to crush. Traditionally, pesto is made by placing the ingredients in a marble “mortar” which is a heavy bowl-like vessel and pounding them into a paste with a wooden “pestle”. Purists still do it that way, but these days, a food processor makes quick work of the whole business. Check out my recipe below for CLASSIC BASIL PESTO as well as some interesting substitutions that can give your pesto a unique twist AND help you use more of your garden’s offerings!
But what about all those green tomatoes? Here in the South, fried green tomatoes are a classic appetizer, luncheon dish or side. They were completely foreign to me when I was a newly arrived Yankee. I found them to be the sort of dish that, if done well, is most delightful. Unfortunately, they are often done not-so-well and can become heavy and even worse, bland. There are very few things that I will cook by frying and a green tomato is not one of them. I believe a green tomato is best when it is pickled! My favorite way to do that is to make PICCALILLI. My memories of piccalilli go back to early childhood. My Nana had jars upon jars of the yellow relish. At such a young age, I was more enamored of the name than I was of the taste. Piccalilli. Picc-a-lilli. Piccalilli Spice. It was a great jump rope word. (You would have to be of “a cetain age” to get that reference!) My Nana sometimes referred to it as “Mustard Pickles” because of the characteristic yellow color, achieved by adding mustard powder and turmeric. I learned that piccalilli is a well-loved relish in the United Kingdom where it was also known as “Indian Pickle” because of the spices such as mustard seed, red pepper flake and fresh ginger. It would be served with hot or cold meats and often with eggs and bacon at breakfast. I can’t say for certain, but I assume that my Nana made her own piccalilli. I remember it in glass jars with domed glass lids fitted with a thin rubber gasket. A wire ring around the jar snapped up onto the lid and sealed everything shut.
She may have used a recipe, or maybe just put things together until she was satisfied. I don’t know. My version of piccalilli is a cross between my Nana’s classic Yankee version and a condiment straight out of the South called “Chow-Chow”. I have heard that chow-chow got its name from the French word CHOU which means cabbage. Cabbage is the main ingredient in chow-chow, along with green tomatoes, onion, bell pepper and all the spices found in piccalilli. It’s served cold with hot dogs, hamburgers and meat sandwiches, but my favorite way to have it is on the side of a bowl of rice and beans.
If your garden (or local farm stand) is overflowing with basil and green tomatoes, give these recipes a try. They will bring summer right through the coldest winter, warming your heart and your tummy!
BASIL PESTO (Using a Food Processor)
Makes about 2 cups
1 bunch basil (about 2 cups leaves)*
2 cloves garlic, peeled (or more, to taste)
2 Tablespoons pine nuts*
1 cup Parmesan cheese*
½ cup extra virgin olive oil*
Pinch of salt
Squeeze of lemon juice (not traditional)
With food processor running, remove small cup in the processor lid. Drop garlic cloves through the hole in the lid. Next, drop in pine nuts. Turn off processor. Add basil leaves, pinch of salt and lemon juice (if using) to processor bowl. Pulse to chop basil. Add Parmesan cheese and pulse a few more times. Once again, remove small cup in processor lid. Then, with processor running, add olive oil slowly through hole in the lid until a smooth paste forms. Store in refrigerator of freeze.
Substitute for basil: parsley, cilantro, arugula, kale or baby spinach
Substitute for pine nuts: walnuts, pecans, pistachios, hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas) or cashews
Substitute for Parmesan cheese: pecorino Romano or Grana Padano
Substitute for olive oil: walnut oil, safflower oil, avocado oil
Makes 4 ½ pints
2 cups green bell pepper, diced
2 cups red bell pepper, diced
1 ½ cups firm green tomatoes, diced
2 cups yellow onion, diced (may substitute Vidalia or other sweet onion)
1-2 cups green cabbage, diced
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup water
¾ teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ teaspoons mustard seed
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼-1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, finely minced (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger)
In a large, non-reactive pan, bring water, salt, sugar and all spices to a simmer. Add the vinegar and bring to a boil. Add in all the vegetables and stir to coat well. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook and stir for 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetables become tender.
Transfer to glass jars and refrigerate.
Piccalilli will keep for 3 to 4 weeks in the refrigerator.