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Pesto – The Best Summer Sauce

Each year we plant basil. A ton of basil.  We usually plant five basil plants.  So much of that basil goes to waste.  This year, we’ve decided to do a much better job of putting up the basil and for me, the easiest way to do that is just to make pesto.  Pesto is a great sauce on pasta, fresh vegetables and especially on tomatoes and burrata cheese.  Don’t think you’ll be eating that much pesto over the short term?  Easy, just put it in an air tight container and put it in the freezer.  It won’t be as perfect and fresh as it is the day you make it, but it will still be wonderful.

Making Homemade Pesto

Pesto is an easy sauce to create, it just takes six ingredients and is easily scalable:

  • One cup of Fresh Basil
  • One peeled clove of garlic (I’ve been omitting this recently)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Pine Nuts (try adding a Tablespoon of Walnuts or swap out Pine Nuts for Walnuts)
  • 1/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 1/3 Cup of Olive Oil (don’t use the GOOD stuff)

The process is effortless if you have a food processor.  I even decided to buy a $19 Black and Decker 1.5 Cup food processor – using my normal food processor wasn’t all that efficient.  Toss in all the dry ingredients into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Then slowly drizzle in the Olive Oil, while the processor runs.  You may need to adjust the amount of Olive Oil – just play with it until it looks right.  Take one final taste and adjust the salt and pepper.

If you do decide to freeze the pesto, be sure you press a layer of plastic wrap directly into the Pesto before putting the lid on and sticking it in the freezer. This keeps the air away from the pesto and reduces freezer burn.

For lunch today, I paired homemade pesto with frozen goat cheese ravioli, diced fresh and sun dried tomatoes…of course with more Parmesan cheese.

Fresh pesto and Ravioli

Frozen Goat Cheese Ravioli with Homemade Pesto and Diced Fresh and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

You can follow this basic recipe for other garden fresh herbs too, including parsley and cilantro.

How do you save your garden fresh herbs?  What do you love to serve with your homemade pesto?

Our Urban Farm – Round One

This is our second summer in our house. We moved in over Labor Day weekend in 2013 – at the end of the summer growing season. When we were looking for a home, we wanted a place with a back yard – I had done a pretty acceptable job of container gardening in the old condo, but wanted to expand my urban farm.

Last year, we pulled out some trees and bushes that really closed off our backyard and I built a raised bed. That last part is pretty impressive, considering the mechanical aptitude in my family. That being said, I purchased the corner pieces and just had to insert the wood into the brackets. Pretty straight forward – even for me.

We had never used a raised bed before and didn’t really know how much sun we would get throughout the year – so our plan last year was to plant and plant and plant and see what happened. We planted the following (number of plants in parentheses) in the raised beds:

  • Cucumbers (1)
  • Cantaloupes (1)
  • Tomatoes (4)
  • Thai Chilies (1)
  • Eggplant (1)
  • Green Beans (1)
  • Artichokes (2)
  • Zucchini (1)
  • Serrano Peppers (2)
  • Bell Peppers (2)
  • Basil (1)
  • Sage (1)
  • Tarragon (1)
  • Other Misc. Herbs

Well, most things did surprisingly well. I ended up canning two dozen jars of pickles (the bread and butter were much better than my dill recipe); making a quart of tomato chutney (my problem is that I love tomatoes and just eat them straight off the vine – not a lot of cooking with them); we had eggplant Parmesan a few times (100% garden driven — except the cheese, of course). Unfortunately, the zucchinis got suffocated by the tomatoes and the cukes, the cantaloupes never really ripened and the artichokes produced a single artichoke – and we were out of town so it basically went from not quite ready to a flower before we realized it.

This year we are taking a slightly different approach. We planted some lettuces (from pre-started plants) and some beets from seeds. The lettuce is taking off and the beats have started to pop up. Our goal is to have a couple salads before we rip this stuff out and put in the real summer plantings for 2015.

Raised Beds with Round One of Lettuce

Raised Beds with Round One of Lettuce

We haven’t finalized our planting list, but we know we will plant:

  • Cucumbers (need more sweet pickles)
  • Tomatoes (of course)
  • Eggplants
  • Thai Chilis
  • Various herbs including Basil

I’d like to try a couple new things too – but we’ve got City rabbits in our yard and try as we might to keep them out, we aren’t succeeding very well.

We had some bushes along the garage that were purely ornamental – and well, not that ornamental either. We had those removed and we planted some raspberry, blueberry and some rose bushes.  The first year raspberries produced about two dozen berries, while we only got 1 blue berry (yes, one — and we didn’t even get to eat it, we found it had fallen off the bush and was partially eaten by something (that damn City rabbit, I bet).

This year, we pulled out the blueberry bushes and planted more raspberries.  My goal is to get 100 raspberries this year and closer to 300 next year.

One Year Old Raspberries in Foreground with New Plantings in Back

One Year Old Raspberries in Foreground with New Plantings in Back

What are you planing in your Urban Farm this year?  How do you keep the rabbits away (without poisons or outdoor animals)?