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Pesto of Death

September 30, 2008

The basil is sagging. It’s making small purple flowers on top in a desperate attempt to reproduce before the end. It is going to die, and I am going to kill it.

For most of the summer, I harvested side shoots off the basil, and it dutifully grew taller and replaced the ones I cut with bigger and stronger leaves. The side shoots have all but stopped now, and in my rapacious greed I am going to cut my friend at the base to take the last few leaves it has to offer. I am going to make a pesto.

To make this pesto I will require a food processor and several ingredients. They are as follows:

Basil (not thai)


Walnuts (pine nuts are more traditional)

Parmesan Cheese

Olive Oil



I will not use an exact recipe when making this pesto, because the tears in my eyes will prevent me from reading. Also, my particular pesto whims are many and fickle. Instead, I will just start blending them all together, following a few basic guidelines:

Start with the basil.

Add garlic with caution, in small quantities.

Add a little more oil than required to keep the food processor running smoothly.

Err on the side of less with the nuts and cheese – you can always add more.

Salt and pepper at the end.

Most Importantly: Taste constantly. If it tastes like it is missing an ingredient, add it in. If it does not taste like it is missing an ingredient, it is done.

Though I told myself all summer I’d freeze pesto and take it out in midwinter, I have not done so, and now it is too late. This will be the last fresh pesto I will taste until the middle of next summer, unless I cave and order sinful pesto made from sinful basil from some sinful land where the sun always shines, most likely California. I have gone and convinced myself that it is morally irresponsible to do that, and because of that I will feel bad when eating this pesto of shame.

The Alice Watersises of the world will tell me that it will only bring joy to my life to eat locally and sustainably, and yet that seems hard to believe when looking at the poor stumps of my pretty red basil and waiting for the inevitable frost to snatch away all but a few purple-green cauliflowers. There is pain here. As much as I can console myself with stored potatoes, artisanal cheeses, grass-fed beef, canned tomatoes and the rest of the preservables that constitute “seasonal” in the New England winter, I will miss my pesto.

Of course, it is morally irresponsible to eat food trucked across the nation on scarce gas bought with the blood of the international underclass, and for me, that is a more compelling reason to eat locally than the joy of fresh ingredients. I will do it despite the pain. I will remember this pesto, and I will look forward to it next year. I’m fairly certain Steve Earle was singing about a woman when he wrote this, but it works the same for pesto, I think:

Your memory cannot keep me warm, but it never leaves me cold.

I’ll tell you if it actually works for pesto when the temperatures drop below zero.

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