The appearance of the sun so late in summer means that one herb that did poorly during the heavy rains, beloved basil, has recovered sufficiently to be available in big bunches alongside a late summer treat, local potatoes. The aromatic basil is often called the king of herbs, and it’s hard to argue with that. It’s not the most versatile in the world, but it certainly behaves like a king. It dominates the summer table, reigning supreme over tomatoes and corn, infusing cream sauces, mayonnaise dressing, vinaigrettes, butters, and other fatty mediums for garnishing or marinating vegetables. (Or meat or fish, for that matter.) It is powerful—use sparingly—and as with all power, fleeting and fragile—use fresh, at the last minute, and don’t subject to high heat.
New potatoes and parsley are a classic, an old favorite of New Englanders and anyone who has ever had access to creamy new potatoes and knows that, as with all perfect ingredients, plain is best. Our grandmothers, unless they were Italian, didn’t have or even know about fresh basil as a rule, but if they had, I am sure that new potatoes and basil would have been just as popular. Before summer ends, I always put some pesto, minus any cheese, into the freezer against that inevitable point in winter when you just cannot face one more meal of roast chicken and steamed broccoli or you will go out of your mind. A dish of pasta with the incredibly fresh spark of pesto, miraculously preserved by that gift to all eaters, the freezer, is a wonderfully restorative thing. Put some by, and come February, spring will seem a real possibility, a memory-turned-hope. And for now, treat yourself to the luxury of new potatoes with a little pesto dressing.
Roasted Pine-Nut Pesto for the Freezer
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
½ tea, generous, kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled
2 cups, firmly packed, fresh whole basil leaves (a big bunch or two)
½ cup good olive oil
¼ tea, generous, freshly ground pepper
In a small skillet, lightly toast the pine nuts with the salt.
Peel, without smashing, the garlic and put in the food processor. Add the pine nuts and salt, the basil, the olive oil, and pepper. Process until it is a smooth puree, stopping occasionally to push the mixture down with a rubber spatula. Taste for salt and pepper.
Put into a ½ pt canning jar; cover the top with plastic wrap, pressing it down on the surface; and top the jar with its lid and ring. Freeze.