It wasn't exactly a non-event, but by the time Hurricane Irene reached the coast of Southern Maine, it had been downgraded to a tropical storm and had lost a lot of the rage it took out on cities and towns further south and west. Like most people in it's path, I worked to prepare for the worst, while hoping for the best.
In addition to getting ice for my cooler and charging all my electronics and storm lanterns, I knew I had to prepare the garden. First, we gathered any of the flowers that would be ruined in the high winds and driving rains. This resulted in a house full of color and fragrance, just the ticket for sitting out the storm.
Since the herbs in the garden were abundant as well, we decided to gather them and spend a stormy afternoon making pesto. Fragrant and earthy, pesto is the perfect way to preserve the beauty and flavor of a summer garden for months to come. I make batches to freeze and use them in the winter as a reminder of warmer days.
Nothing could be easier to make. I have proportions that have served me well in making pesto, but the ingredients can change to suit what you have on hand. Generally I use a generous handful of toasted nuts, my favorite are walnuts and almonds. (I've stopped using pine nuts in any dish after having a case of Pine Mouth last year. Read about this weird phenomenon here.) I pulse these, along with three cloves of garlic in the food processor.
Next come the herbs. I made several batches with basil and several more with parsley. I love cilantro pesto, but I didn't have enough from my garden this time. I fill the food processor bowl with herbs, usually about two packed cups and blend nuts, garlic, and herbs. If I'm using parsley I also use the zest of half a lemon.
Then I add about 1/2 cup of cheese. I usually use a good quality Parmigiano Reggiano, but lately I have loved the addition of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar. It has the same earthiness and texture as the Parmigiano, but a depth of flavor that really stands up to the strong taste of the herbs.
Finally I drizzle about 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil in the processor as I pulse. That's about it. Nothing could be easier.
Because I had even more parsley left over I made a Cannellini bean dip that is simpler still. Take one can of white beans, drained and rinsed, the zest of one lemon, three cloves of garlic, one packed cup of parsley and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Put everything in the food processor and blend until creamy and pale green.
To call this a dip is really not giving it its due. This concoction, which is full of protein is versatile, tasty, inexpensive and ready in minutes. Sure it works great as a dip with chips, crackers or veggies, but it also works as a sandwich spread. I like it smeared on French bread, topped with a thin slice of ripe tomato. I've also been know to put a dollop or two on hot pasta for a very quick, very easy vegetarian entree.
I also rescued ripe tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden in advance of the impending weather. Nothing is easier - or more delicious - than cherry tomatoes cut in half and sliced cucumbers tossed with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Simple summer food, even in the middle of a storm, really is the best food.
As Irene made her presence known, a few intrepid friends came to my house to watch the waves and enjoy the bounty of a garden under siege. The flowers were gorgeous, the food was fresh and delicious, and Mother Nature put on quite a show!