Grace’s hippie sister, reporting in from Oklahoma with a knockoff of a recipe from her favorite upscale Italian restaurant.
I knew I’d spent way too much time hanging out with Italians when I caught myself adding red wine and olive oil to a batch of Hamburger Helper.
Grace and I grew up surrounded by Italians: Alegnanis, Berras, Calcaterras, Camaratos, Cerniglias, Colombos, Dell’Eras, DeTomasis, Ferraris, Garavalias, Garegnanis, Garnatis, Gualdonis, Marlows, Pisonis, Quaglias, Ranchinos, Sollamis, Spezias, Trapanis, Venegonis … you get the idea.
Somehow, I managed to land in Tulsa — where the Mexican and Lebanese influences tend to dominate the culinary landscape — but while you can take the girl out of Herrin, apparently you can’t take Herrin out of the girl: A cursory glance at the cabinets on a recent Friday afternoon revealed that while I was out of milk, bread, and most other staples, I had plenty of garlic, two kinds of olive oil, and at least seven different types of pasta on hand.
I heard the basil plant on my windowsill calling my name, so I pinched off some leaves and broke out the food processor. It was pesto time.
The thing I love most about Italian cooking is its tolerance for imprecision. I don’t like to measure anything when I’m cooking. It takes too long and requires too much thought. I’d rather add a handful of this and a pinch of that until it tastes right. With that in mind, a good batch of pesto should start with a handful of fresh basil. (I know fresh herbs sound too expensive to be RKP-worthy, but they’re so cheap and easy to grow that there’s really no need to buy them. Flat-leaf parsley, basil, chives, dill, and cilantro all grow very well from seed and thrive in containers. Try them to brighten up your kitchen and add a touch of class to the most modest meals.)
I pulled about a dozen leaves off the plant in my kitchen, but you can use more if you like.
Peel a couple of cloves of garlic and throw them into the food processor with the basil. Add a handful of soft nuts — pignoli, or pine nuts, are traditional, but pecans are cheaper, much easier to find, and work just as well — and process to a thick paste.
Add about a quarter to a third of a cup of olive oil and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese (about a quarter-cup or so) and process again until well blended. Toss with cooked linguine, top with a handful of crumbled bleu cheese, and serve with a light salad for a quick, elegant meal.