City Garden Meal
In my simple city patio in South Philly I am growing a few huge pots of flowers, herbs and giant pots of Rainbow Chard and Basil. I wanted to keep the "back yard" clear and simple this year so our inquisitive 21 month old son, Nate, wouldn't lift, move and tear into my plants and flowers. The idea is working as the planters I purchased this year, from IKEA are bigger and heavier (thankfully) than Nate, so he cannot budge them. Nor can I but that's just fine. Where they are set is perfect and all the herbs and flowers I'm growing are doing well. I had not planned on planting edibles this year but I was given the chard and basil from a friend that were started from seed, so I couldn't resist. After three weeks in the good soil in the bright hot sun, the chard and basil were large enough for picking and eating tonight. While I enjoy organic foods and produced picked within a few days from my local CSA farm share, I can't say that I've ever a) picked my own food and b) eaten something picked within an hour of coming out of the garden. Tender, delicious and alive are the best descriptions for the chard and the basil was sweet and fragrant, perfect for turning into into a quick pesto.
The basil is nearly as big as my hand - which is to say the leaves are large but my hand is average sized. I removed the basil stems gave the leaves a quick rinse and whirl in the salad spinner. Rather than fuss and make a basil oil, or get too tricky with too many unnecessary and fattening ingredients, I turned the basil leaves into a basic pesto - pureeing the leaves in the food processor with only about 2 tablespoons of light olive oil. I wanted to "whiz" the basil to make a fragrant sauce which could toss into a saute of my CSA farm share: garlic scape oil, candy onions, green and yellow zucchini and my very own back yard chard. All this was mixed in with whole wheat thin spaghetti and topped with my fresh pesto. To make sure the pesto really coated all the pasta and the vegetables, I reserved a cup of the pasta cooking water to thin the sauce and "tighten" the over-all dish. Since we are meet eaters, dinner also included grilled boneless/skinless chicken breasts. These were sliced thin, tossed with kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, the juice of half a lemon and a tablespoon of my garlic scape oil.
Here's what the saute of vegetables looked like - very basic. I used no more than 2 tablespoons of the garlic scape oil (you can find the recipe here). When you don't have a lot of vegetables and you want to stretch them further, combining unlikely ingredients will do the trick. In a large non-stick saute pan, I heated the garlic oil until it shimmered and then sauteed a diced large onion until they started to caramelize - about 6 minutes. To this I sauteed 2 medium zucchini for 5 minutes, then added the tender stems from the chard and then the chard leaves until they wilted - about 2 more minutes. I tossed in a couple of grinds of freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. I wanted to reserve using salt until the end since I knew I would serve it over pasta and I'd be using some grated cheese.
Once the pasta was cooked, I drained it (remembering to reserve a cup of cooking water) and tossed the pasta into the pan with the vegetable saute. Topped this with the fresh pesto a few more grinds of fresh black pepper and tossed to combine. Serve with grated cheese.