Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Windowsill

This post was contributed by Lindsey, one of our Heirloom Gardens farmers. If you'd like to read more of Lindsey's wonderful musings on life, visit her blog at Rhyme, Reason, or None of the Above.

I don’t think I’ve ever purchased fresh basil in my life—and not because I’m so enlightened that I’ve always grown it myself. Instead, I have a history of approaching herbs and spices as any reasonable soul approaches wild mushrooms: they might look good, but you really shouldn’t mess with them unless you’re sure of what you’re doing. On the rare occasion that I’ve actually used a recipe and it called for basil, I turned to that neat little jar of dried green flakes that has been sitting in the back of my pantry for years.

This brings me to a shameful confession. Even during my first season as a working member of Heirloom Gardens, when the balance of herbs to veggies was a bit skewed and each week’s share contained a volume of herbs that would astonish even a committed user, I did not appreciate the fresh basil that was part of the mix. Some weeks, the bag of basil got shoved so far to the back of the fridge that I wouldn’t stumble across it until it was in an advanced stage of rot.

But this past summer, things shifted. I was determined to do a better job of processing my entire share to minimize waste. Since I’m a party of one, this meant making things that freeze well…which, on a friend’s suggestion, led me to looking up a vegan pesto recipe. (Substituting nutritional yeast for Parmesan cheese makes this version more freezer-friendly, since dairy doesn’t love deep cold.) Suddenly, there was no such thing as too much fresh basil. I mixed a heaping tablespoon of pesto in with a bowl of hot rice for a tasty breakfast. I put pesto on homemade minimalist bread for a snack. I ate so much pesto that, although I was freezing large quantities and thinking they’d be there for me when the growing season was over, I was blowing through nearly my entire backstock by the time I picked up a fresh batch of basil each week.

When the basil started to dwindle in September, I was gripped by a minor panic. What was I going to eat all winter? A world without pesto struck me as bland and barren. At the same time, I wasn’t willing to pay supermarket prices for fresh basil flown or trucked in from god-knows-where.

So one afternoon in November, I started eyeing my windowsill. I’ve tried windowsill gardening to various extents over the past three years, but never with a very satisfactory result. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try; I planted a few seeds. Nature took its course, and now every few weeks, I pluck enough basil leaves to make a small batch of pesto. Joy! And it also makes me so happy to see the green of the plants against the backdrop of the chilly city street outside my apartment window. My winter windowsill basil reminds me that, before I know it—and almost too quickly—the bounty of summer will return.

To make vegan pesto: Blend 1 1/2 c. fresh basil, 1/3 c. olive oil, 1 c. nuts (traditionally pine nuts, though I like to use a combo of pistachios and almonds), 5 cloves raw garlic, 1/3 c. nutritional yeast, and 3/4 tsp. salt in a food processor.

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