Gardening can be a lot of work, but one can also reap a delicious bounty of summer delights as a reward for their efforts.  I have to admit I’m a bit of a lazy gardener.

 Just the basics in my garden:   tomatoes, squash, peppers and herbs.  I depend on the farmer’s market and fellow gardeners for the other summer goodies.

One thing my simple garden has a lot of are herbs.  Herbs are really one of the easiest things a beginning gardener can tackle.  One just needs a sunny spot and a little soil and water.  I have been growing thyme, basil, chive, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary and lavender.  The thyme, chive, parsley, and sage are hearty and I was able to enjoy them all winter.   

My basil is coming right along.  I had a fellow gardener give me a welcomed batch of basil, and along with my own, I’m just enjoying my first pesto of the season.  Have you tried making your own pesto?

As you probably know, pesto is a delicious, emerald green sauce that can accompany a variety of food.  According to Cooks.com, the top five ways to use pesto are:  as a spread or dip, as a stuffing ingredient for a casserole or sandwich, as a topping for grilled meat or veggies, as a topping for pasta, and finally mixed with mayonnaise, rice or mashed potatoes for added flavor.

Basic pesto is made from basil, garlic, pine nuts or walnuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil:  all of my favorite ingredients.  How could it not be delicious? It’s quite funny to read commentaries that serious “foodies” have written concerning pesto.  It has been elevated to ambrosia status, (food of the gods).  Many have unusual methods for preparing their concoction.

 Some say that no self-respecting cook would consider using a food processor and that it should take at least 30 minutes to prepare.  One lady said that in order to make pesto like a “real Italian grandmother” you must use a mezzaluna; a type of rocking two handled knife.   

I use a food processor to prepare my pesto and haven’t had any complaints; but real die-hard foodies swear by a mortar and pestle.

As you know, basil is an herb.  Here’s a little information on herbs in general.  Herbs are the leaves, stems, or flowers of an aromatic plant.  Herbs are available in fresh or dried.  Dried herbs are much stronger than fresh herbs because the herb’s flavorful oils are concentrated during the drying process.  When using dried herbs, one should lightly crumble before adding to a dish to release their flavors.  When using fresh herbs instead of dried, use two to three times what is called for in a recipe.

Each herb contributes its own distinct flavor.  Several can be used in combination.  Strong flavorful herbs can often be used to reduce the amount of salt needed in a dish.

Storing herbs properly will keep them flavorful and fresh.  It helps to keep dried herbs away from light, heat and moisture.

 Fresh herbs can be saved like most leafy produce.  Simply wash, allow to drain on a clean dish towel, roll gently in paper towels and store in a Ziploc bag in the refrigerator.  Many fresh herbs from your garden can be dried or frozen successfully to be used all winter.

Dried herbs should be replaced about once a year.   To be sure dried herbs are at their freshest; see if they can pass the smell test.  If they still smell as they should, they are probably fine.  Herbs tend to lose fragrance and flavor as they age.

Give herbs a try.  Herbs are a healthful way to add extra flavor to a dish or in the case of pesto can be a delicious main ingredient.

I’ve included my pesto recipe.  I hope you can enjoy it with friends.

Basic Pesto

3 cloves garlic

2 cups fresh basil leaves

3 tablespoons raw pine nuts or half walnuts

Dash of salt and pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup of parmesan cheese

In bowl of food processor, process garlic until minced.  Add basil, pine nuts, and salt and pepper to food processor.  While processor is running, slowly drizzle olive oil through feed tube until ingredients are pureed.  Finally, dump in parmesan and process to desired consistency.  Cover and refrigerate up to 2-3 day.  Can be frozen in ice trays and used as needed.   

Jenean Perryman, Culinary Arts Instructor, Northeast Technology Center

P.O. Box 219, 19901 Hwy 69, Afton, Oklahoma 74331

(918)257-8324