Monday, June 15, 2009

Pesto, Fennel, and Mandarin Oranges

I took advantage of some downtime this weekend to brainstorm a few cooking and planting projects I'd like to do over the next several months, and as grist for the mill, I decided to make pesto from my basil plant and a fennel and orange salad from a recent recipe by my friend Maggie. Fennel, for me, evokes memories of Laurel Hill's lower deck, where wild fennel fronds would poke through the fence, and which I and my preschool compatriots would pick in order to taste "licorice". 

Last summer I belonged to the Washington Square CSA, which is affiliated with Norwich Farms and which received an impressive and much appreciated bounty of fennel in July; this year, however, I'm CSA-less, so Fairway's fennel will have to suffice (as of yet I'm beyond satisfied).  I decided to play around with Maggie's recipe a bit--I'd picked up a beautiful bunch of flat leaf parsley at the Park Slope Co-op with SAS (I was an intrepid and slightly illegal shopper, and yes, my pulse did quicken in the ominously quiet aisles. Why do none of the Co-op members talk to one another in the store? I find that very, very strange for a group that insists upon shoulder-to-shoulder community--or perhaps therein lies the problem?). In any case, I had an equally enticing bunch of pungent mint leaves, but my general distaste for cilantro made me reluctant to include it, and because I had a tin of organic unsweetened mandarin oranges begging to be opened, I passed on peeling and slicing my own oranges as well. 

Other than those emendations, I stayed true to Maggie's culinary marvel, and I must say, this is a phenomenal summer salad! I ate half of it for dinner on Saturday and had to resist finishing it on Sunday post-lawn sports.

As of today--Monday--the salad had vanished, so this evening I made pesto from the small basil plant that I picked up at the W 77th St Greenmarket a few weekends ago. 
In the spirit of Tassajara, which has been my gastronomical muse these past couple of months, I followed Annie Somerville's recipe from the Fields of Greens cookbook; I also threw in a fistful of the leftover flat parsley leaves--delicious! The small yield of basil leaves (roughly one cup's worth) resulted in just enough pesto for two bowls of pasta, although as one can see from the photo below, instead of pulverizing the leaves I only pulsed them a few times, so that the pesto "dotted" the pasta instead of coating it.

Now I'm pesto-less and fennel salad-less, and my basil plant is oddly naked looking without its leaves, but the culinary memories more than make up for the losses. Furthermore, I was able to spend part of the weekend with SAS at the Grand Army Plaza Farmers' Market in Brooklyn, as well as some quality time in the Park, on the road, and both in and on the water, so there's simply nothing left to do at this point but revel in the afterglow of these wonderful experiences...

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