Wednesday, February 13, 2019
A plentitude of friendships.
Friendship includes at least several of affection; kindness, love, virtue, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, loyalty, mutual understanding and compassion.
Friends enjoy each other's company, are comfortable with each other, with or without conversation.
Make lonely times and places tolerable.
Are whom we want to be around when we feel like being alone.
With a friend, we may express feelings, think out loud, make mistakes without fear of rejection.
Friendship doesn’t wear out.
Doesn’t fade with age.
Straddles the longest stretches of absences, immediately picking up where last left off, even a decade ago.
Friendship thrives despite knowing each other well.
And survives unpleasantness, especially when one or the other is low or unlovable or weak.
Or when we strongly disagree on an issue.
And helps despite disagreeing with actions of the other.
A friend is joyful when we are, and hurts when we do.
Friends make us better people.
And a plentitude of friendships?
Try it out.
Don’t we all know someone that we only see twice a year on Restaurant Week for a reasonable dinner?
Or whom we think of when we feel down?
Or need someone especially empathetic?
Clarifying the definition we may find we have more friends than we thought.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
My 307th consecutive posting, committed to 5,000.
Time is 12.01am.
On Wednesday, Boston’s temperature will reach a high of 43* with a feels-like temperature of 36* with a chance of a shower.
According to the Blog’s “Winter Calendar, Jan2 to Feb13,” this is the last day remaining on our winter calendar.
The “Winter-Spring Shoulder Season Calendar, Feb 14 to April 7” is our next calendar and our next measurement of time as we march the thirteen plus years to the 5,000th and final posting.
One of the great things about switching to the “Winter Spring Shoulder Calendar Feb 14 to April 7” is that, historically, the second two weeks of February are five degrees warmer than the first two, and March is eight degrees warmer than February. April is twelve degrees warmer than March.
Dinner is Chicken Cacciatore.
307 posts to date.
Today we’re at the 6.14% mark of my commitment,
the commitment a different way of marking the passage of time.
5,000 posts will take 13.69 years, taking me to a new phase of my life.
Will see thirteen more “Blog’s Winter Calendars, Jan2 to Feb13.”
This one is over.
Tomorrow starts a new calendar.
Question of the Day
Recently a concept of Pesto Sauce was posted. When it’s in the cross-hairs, what does a recipe and discussion of Pesto Sauce look like in the hands of someone who takes a scholarly approach, and may be a bit of an obsessive (I’d call him a dedicated foodie)?
Elephant Jokes to tell at a bar:
Love your notes.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
This chuckle from Sally:
Years ago, one summer, my brother and I had a similar dilemma. I was home on my day off from work as a counselor at a girls' camp, my parents were away in Maine at our summer place, and Dana was living alone in the house. He and I opened the refrigerator door at supper time and surveyed the contents. Like yours: a dribble of this, a smidgen of that, a chunk of something else. Too much to throw away and not enough to save. Dana said, "When it gets this bad, we ought to have a yard sale."
Web Meister Responds: Cute. Thanks, Sally.
Answer to Question
Recently a concept of Pesto Sauce was posted. When it’s in the cross-hairs, what does a recipe and discussion of Pesto Sauce look like when it’s in the hands of a dedicated foodie (a description Howard tells me he’s not crazy about)?
This answer, submitted by our dear friend, Howard Dinin, illustrates our deep friendship as well as his thought process, passion, writing talents, and knowledge of food.
As so often happens, I was left with ambivalent feelings after reading a recent post of yours. Not a bad thing in itself. In fact, I look forward to having the untoward spasms of feeling as much as the more exultant ones. It seems, in the hackneyed cliché, to get my juices flowing. More pertinently, it gets me to write, almost, but not quite, automatically (look up “automatic writing”—and yes, I know you know what it is; I’m just inspiring you to take the extra step of informing the uninformed). I would never write without some shred of a sense of controlling what comes out of my consciousness.
Anyway, your post. I was feeling good because you were proselytizing for pesto, far and away my favorite of sauces.
On the other hand, there’s your propensity for offering what is often not so much the lazy person’s way out of indulging in what should be a transcendent dining experience, and engaging in merely a satisfying one, but making it seem like it’s easy to be truly great. Not that there’s anything wrong with satisfaction. But there can be so much more to living, even in quotidian terms, than mere baseline contentment, unadulterated by any hint of contamination (say, a hint too much salt, a flicker of bitterness, whatever disrupts the whole concatenation of tastes going on in your mouth).
And, confessions being best offered up front, I will confess to being introduced to pesto, probably over 40 years ago now, maybe longer ago, and no, it wasn’t in your restaurant. And yes, I was introduced by way of stumbling on a recipe that suggested the canonical way of preparing a batch was more or less as you outlined in your post, and which I’ve learned in the interim, now long since, is pretty much the equivalent of a kind of wham bam thank you ma’am. Speaking of a quick bout of satisfaction vs. a luxuriant prolonged immersion in optimal indulgence. It involved an electrical kitchen appliance, emphasis on kitchen.
No question of where to begin:
I’ll begin with the skimpy 57 words that constitutes your “recipe.”
I call it short shrift.
The prime ingredient (and kudos to you for listing it first) is, of course, the basil.
“A bunch” you say. What is a bunch? Proportionate to the amount of pine nuts and oil (which you specify to the ounce), is it a large amount? What’s large? I mean in ounces?
There are other questions, the need for which you dispense with by not mentioning the details, so necessary to any discussion of an herb, especially one with the dual nature of delicacy and potency like Basil.
Is it fresh? For pesto, there is no other kind. And preferably just harvested from the plant still living and its roots in the ground (or in the hydroponic bed, I suppose, but the basil offered as fresh and living at, say, Whole Foods, is a pale (I mean as in weak, etiolated, and faint, to speak of flavor components) imitation of the varietals usually to be encountered as cultivated in the right kind of soil).
The soul of pesto, the reason for its being, is the potent olfactory wham of fragrance if you get your nose and palate anywhere in the vicinity of the crushed flavor components (volatile oils, etc.) of the plant. And it dissipates with oxidation, so it must be fresh, and any abundant amount, if not served immediately, must have some hope of preservation by being sealed under a generous film of olive oil covering the exposed surface.
But you say, further along, “Make it the night before you need it.” Without a word of what I just said, as if you can, say, leave it out, like a bowl of food for your four-legged companion, who might get a hunger pang in the night.
As importantly, you make no mention of which part of the plant should be used. Throw it all into a “food chopper.” And what is that, precisely? You do say, “blend” and this suggests a blender. And that, it’s true, is a perfectly respectable kitchen appliance, when your objective is to liquify whatever ingredients you decide have their fate to be liquified. Yet you say, “blend into…a paste.” Do you mean like Colgate? Or do you mean like pasta dough? You make a joke of “Pesto” meaning “paste.” But “pasta” really does mean paste. And pesto is not a paste no more than Colgate should go on your maccheroncini rigati. It’s a sauce.
It’s a robust sauce, and not just merely fragrant, as I suggested, but just shy of overpoweringly aromatic. A kind of therapy. And this means there is an optimal amount of exposure of the aromatic components. And this means not chopping it, but crushing it. And a food processor (which is, and I’m merely guessing, as I have to do with you, what you meant probably) is the usual fallback appliance for making quick work of what is otherwise a laborious (however manifestly and disproportionatly rewarding) process for making pesto the way it is made in its native Liguria.
And while I’m on the subject, and this is important, you ascribe the origin of pesto as a sauce to Genoa. Sure enough, Genoa, a major city, is in Liguria. But Liguria, immediately contiguous to two of the richest areas adjacent to the Mediterranean for an abundant array of specialized dishes constituting what is designated by the French as terroir. There is the terroir of Nice, originally not just a municipality, but the domain of a Count, a separate political entity, with its own take on many dishes otherwise assumed by the uninformed to be Italian. And there is the Piedmont, which is the subject, no doubt for a whole other wide-ranging discussion, but for another time, because it has nothing to do with pesto.
The Niçoise version of pesto is called pistou, which is clearly cognate, and as for ingredients, they are similar, but the French version does not always include pine nuts, and the French are not so keen on the copious amounts of garlic called for in the Ligurian recipes. Note I said “recipes,” and this is important, because the many kinds of pesto you will find in the large number of restaurants serving it in Genoa, are themselves outnumbered by the varieties of the sauce that are concocted as authentic and native to each of the myriad towns and villages in Liguria.
As Waverley Root notes as he introduces the subject in his epic, and authoritative The Food of Italy, with his usual magisterial take on even the most homely subjects:
Of the many specifically Ligurian or Genoese dishes, two stand out particularly for precisely opposite reasons pesto, because it is so sharply localized, unfindable elsewhere; ravioli, because it has spread around the world, and is eaten everywhere by persons who have no idea that it originated in Genoa – or more exactly, on board Genoese ships.
The statement that pesto is not found outside of Liguria requires one qualification. On the French Riviera, adjoining Liguria, there is a local variant of pesto called pistou. It marks the former presence of the Genoese in this area. Pistou is much milder than pesto. The Genoese sailors, who found in its basil and garlic the green freshness and the earthy pungency they craved after their long odysseys, wanted those qualities in strong, even exaggerated, form. The pesto of Genoa is sharp and challenging.
Let’s quickly dispense with acknowledging that the “Genoese” dish, per se, is ravioli. Pesto is Ligurian, inclusive of, but not exclusive to, Genoa.
And Root goes on to explain that pesto is the sauce that lends its name to the dish that you are most likely to be served if you enter a restaurant and simply order, “Pesto.” It’s a vegetable soup, and served as well in Nice, to which one adds, as a last step, a heaping dollop of the sauce just before placing the portion in front of the diner. Which is to say, pesto is never cooked, not even in the soup.
Next most often pesto is a sauce for gnocchi, and then for virtually any form of pasta you may choose.
While I will only interject the personal note of my preference for gnocchi and pesto as the quintessential experience of the heavenly sauce, I think it’s time to move on to the next steps as I deconstruct the practical necessities of preparation, which can only be guessed at, if that, from your succinct recipe.
I did say, “crush” is the accurate verbal form to apply when preparing the sauce known as pesto. This means, strictly speaking, that the basil must be crushed in a mortar (Root notes further that the canonical instructions from his sources stipulate that the pestle should be of wood, and the mortar of marble, but I think, as he merely suggests, that this is getting a little too finicky). And you don’t willy-nilly throw chunks of plant torn from the soil into the vessel to be used for crushing. The basil should first be plucked leaf by leaf from the stems. Purists will go further and say the leaves should be deveined, at least insofar as central veins can be differentiated and easily dissected out.
There is a varietal of basil that is supposed to be the only sui generis type used in an authentic basil, but it is indigenous to only a very small region of Liguria, and basil is too delicate to be exported readily and so the prospect of using it purely for reasons of fidelity to the ideal is doomed. The leaves of this version are apparently, by nature, quite small, and there is no necessity for removing the woody stems and veins, which contain few or no aromatic elements.
And while I’m on the verge of moving on from the act of crushing the carefully curated leaves of the plant, let me quote Root once again:
Pesto makers are adamant on this point: no one can chop the ingredients fine enough; they must be ground…
And to paraphrase (while making short work of the rest of the treatment in the mortar and pestle), first the basil leaves are ground by crushing them carefully with coarse kitchen salt and a clove of garlic. The color (a “tender green”) is a guide for adding the other ingredients. That is, the particular green must be attained, no fainter and no deeper. “If it weakens, put in more basil.”
Next you add equal amounts of pecorino cheese (Root specifies young Sardinian, but give me a break; if you want to see supercilious smirks, ask the clerk in the “gourmet” cheese department of Whole Food Market (any branch) if they’ve got any fresh young Sardinian pecorino) and old Parmesan. I would suggest, though he does not specify, that you might coarsely grate these cheeses before adding them to the mortar for crushing with the other ingredients. As you grind in the cheese, add olive oil (and here, Root, I think, is correct, you should use a “local,” i.e., a Ligurian, olive oil. A Provençal or Niçois olive oil (believe it or not even harder to come by, here in the U.S.) will do as well. Add the oil drop by drop. Keep adding oil until the paste is the desired density. If you are making a vegetable soup (a “pesto” or a “pistou”) you probably want the paste somewhat thicker than it would be if to be added to pasta.
The final ingredients are the pine nuts, which are added and then “crushed so thoroughly that they become an indistiguishable part of the whole pungent creamy mass.” That “creamy” is a critical qualifier, as it describes the desirable texture: the ingredients should be combined so they are a silky homgeneous concoction describable in that way. It also describes the desirable consistency, within a fairly narrow range. For pasta, pesto should be somewhere between heavy cream and cream of coconut in viscosity. But I myself stipulate no more specifically than that as it’s a matter of personal preference.
As for the difference all this labor and attentiveness demanded can make in the finished product, there is no other way to convince yourself than, soon after concocting what is, after all, a makeshift jury-rigged version of pesto in a food processor, take the time and exasperating effort to do the entire operation by hand, with the ingredients as carefully, if not lovingly, chosen as to adhere to those called for and available as if you lived within driving distance of the villages known as the Cinque Terre.
If you love pesto, and you’ve never had it made “the right way,” I’d advise having medical resuscitaiton equipment nearby when you do. When you regain consciousness, you will swear you died and went, you know, to Liguria.
Good Morning on this Wednesday, the 13th day of February.
We talked about friendships.
About the ending of the Winter Calendar.
About an elephant.
A chuckle from Sally.
And we heard from Howard re: Pesto Sauce.
Now? Now gotta go.
Che vuoi? Le pocketbook?
See you soon.