Pesto, handpies, and a great margarita

It has been a damn good week of eating. Summer produce can make meals both simpler and more delicious, and I am extremely appreciative of that seasonal gift.

Because mint is an herb I can grow successfully -unlike basil and rosemary, both of which seem like herbs that black-thumbed idiots can grow; what does that make me? hmm..- and I love its clean, bright flavor, I use it regularly in favorites like my mint pistachio pesto.

Earlier this week, I oven-roasted some beautiful halibut and then spooned the mint pesto atop the filet while still warm. C'est magnifique!

oven-roasted halibut with mint pistachio pesto

oven-roasted halibut with mint pistachio pesto

The tomato salad came the night after the halibut when I went against my better judgment and bought some fresh sockeye salmon. It was so stunningly just-from-the-sea that I was certain this filet would be the one to change my mind.

It did not.

Sockeye is too flat and too dense for my liking. Thank goodness for the luscious toms.

collard and chorizo handpies (pre-bake)

collard and chorizo handpies (pre-bake)

And the next night came collard and chorizo handpies which are always a treat. And later, a grilled pizza.

This afternoon, at a first grade swim party, my good friend, M, brought me a huge, fragrant bunch of basil from her yard. She is not a black-thumbed herb idiot, and I am often the lucky recipient of her success.

It was very hot today but because I'd bought more than a few flowers at the big annuals sale at the nursery yesterday and so needed to go gang-busters in my garden after the swim party, I decided, as I walked up the stairs sweaty and muddy and mosquito bitten and whooped after planting, that we'd be having pasta with fresh basil pesto tonight.

happy Em

happy Em

But first a shower. And then a margarita made with my favorite new strawberry and meyer lemon shrub* from Shrub & Co. And then a Harry Potter #7 read-aloud and then the pasta -bucatini- with fresh basil pesto, hold the garlic and pine nuts tonight to keep things light, and chopped tomatoes.

And now to bed. YAY!

*What is a shrub? A shrub is a marvelous concoction crafted from fruit, sugar and vinegar. It's yet another method of preservation though for a very different application than say, jam or pickles. Shrubs are used in cocktails (or mocktails) and provide both sweetness and tang. Shrub & Co makes outstanding shrubs: Blood Orange Cardamom and Strawberry & Meyer Lemon are two of my favorites. 

The evolution of a great salad: heirloom tomatoes, peaches, herbs and chèvre.

Inspired by both my Boulud Sud salad and the fact that we are thick in the middle of tomato season, I made this beauty last night.

Heirloom tomato, peach, herb and chevre salad with shallots and apple vinaigrette.

Heirloom tomato, peach, herb and chevre salad with shallots and apple vinaigrette.

Heirloom tomatoes that were so tomatoey I hardly knew what to do (because how rare in this hybridized age is a tomatoey purchased tomato?!), paired magically with peeled and sliced peaches, young chèvre, a handful of chopped herbs from my garden and a lovely apple vinaigrette that I made with a Granny Smith Apple Balsamic I bought at Williams-Sonoma just yesterday. Diced shallots provided a bit of kick. 

If you want to test the freshness and piquancy of your shallots, slice one. If it makes you cry, you're in great shape for kick. If not, you'll have a much tamer but still lovely flavor.

Aren't those tomato hearts surreal?

Using fresh herbs is such an underrated means of boosting the flavor and beauty of most any dish. And do they ever love tomatoes. In my scrumptious Herby Tomato Tart, I use equal parts parsley, basil and chives. Last night I used a similar blend: two types of basil, thyme and chives.

This salad is definitely best when no part of it beyond the cheese has ever been cold. Please, please, I beseech you: DO NOT store your tomatoes in the fridge. You will kill all flavor and texture and make me feel so sad. 

I used a very young chèvre that is creamy, tangy and just solid enough to maintain itself at room temperature. I also let it sit on the counter for a good half-hour before serving. 

You want to use peaches that are definitely ripe but not mushy. They need to have the slightest hint of crunch so that they stand up to the soft tomato flesh and cheese. Overripe peaches tend to lose not only their marvelous texture but also their flavor. Blech- mealy peaches are as awful as mealy apples.

As far as vinaigrettes go, I like to keep mine simple: equal parts oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. If you have an especially strong vinegar or want to include mustard, you'll likely want to use a higher ratio of oil to the tangy elements: 60/40 or so. But keep things basic, use good quality stuff and let the fruits and veggies shine. 

The Granny Smith Apple Balsamic is really delicious, and I highly recommend it. If you don't want to buy any because you don't get misty-eyed over new vinegars as do I, substitute white Balsamic or Champagne vinegar or maybe a blend of those. 

This recipe will be posted momentarily in Salads.

When a friend brings you basil...

Earlier today, I made a batch of cherry-rhubarb-hibiscus jam. It's a recipe I made up last summer after creating my rhubarb-cherry-hibiscus crumble; the latter was so tasty, it seemed I simply had to try and turn it into a preserve so that its flavors could last throughout the year. It was a success, and I now have five new half-pints for my basement store. Today I used both Bing and Ranier cherries, both of which I find, when they're plump and fresh, heavenly. They're pretty, aren't they?

I then ordered new photos of the boys - on my to-do list for months!- so that I can update my frames. If you looked around our home, you'd think I had two toddlers on my hands. Though it sometimes feels that way, such is not the case. I was putzing around accomplishing other things when my dear pal, M, texted: "can I bring you some basil?"

"Um, yes!"

And by the way, I say ba-sil, not bay-sil. Both, FYI, are correct pronunciations, so even though T and Jack mock my preferred short 'ba', I'm going with it. #southern

A bouquet of fragrant, just-picked Genovese was soon mine, and after plucking the stems bare, I found I had three packed cups. Obviously, pesto. I added a half-cup of mint, about a quarter-cup of toasted pine nuts, the zest of a lemon, a half-cup of grated Parm, two cloves of garlic, salt and olive oil. Pesto is such a dynamite sauce. I too often forget about it, so standard and regular it often seems. But good pesto is an exquisite thing, and I'm thrilled to have this new batch.