This has been the best summer yet in my backyard garden. I have grown nice gardens before but when we moved to the Pacific Northwest, over a decade ago, I found myself facing a whole new set of gardening challenges. One was the location of the backyard garden. It is bordered by a fence on one side and is crowded by a tree on the other. Though I try to keep the tree trimmed the garden still struggles for enough sunlight.
Another challenge has been adapting to the cycles of this climate. The Pacific Northwest is a region of microclimates. Fine-tuning local gardening recommendations to suit the elevation, orientation and proximity to our house of our particular garden site has required a number of adjustments too.
A Good Year
Finally, this summer things have gone very well. I had tomatoes on several vines. Better yet, the flavor of the little yellow tomatoes that thrived on one of them has been exceptional. Few of them ever make it into the house. My husband and I simply eat them as we discover them before we even leave the garden. There is no better treat than a perfectly ripe tomato warm from the sun and fresh off the vine. Popping one in my mouth and biting into it is bliss.
This year we also had a couple of very productive zucchini plants. As simple as it is to grow zucchini I have not had the best of luck with zucchini vines in my garden here. This year has been different and I have been blessed by that age-old cliche of too many zucchini. I have been roasting them and shredding them and freezing them, but more on that later.
And then there was this huge mystery vine that took over half of the backyard. It turned out that it produced little yellow gourds on a plant that seemed better suited to pumpkins or watermelon.
This Summer’s Success
Among these successes and delights, what I have been most thrilled with in my garden this summer (besides the bunny who hangs around a lot and only nibbles on a few of my least favorite herbs) is the basil. My basil plants have grown tall and lush with thick smooth leaves. I can see them from my kitchen window. I have harvested the luscious fragrant leaves for bruschetta and Summer Berry Basil Sauce and salads and it keeps growing beautifully. I have lemon basil, sweet basil, and at least three varieties with names I'm not sure of.
Not long ago I felt that it was time to really harvest this beautiful herb and make some pesto. I cut back my plants carefully, I cut, and cut, and when I finally got back to the kitchen I had a huge basket full of basil. When rinsed and separated I had eight cups of firmly packed leaves. I was amazed! In years past I have been lucky to harvest a twig or two of basil in my backyard.
Getting down to business I pulled out a pesto recipe that I discovered back in Dallas where my basil and parsley grew with abandon. There I made large batches of this pesto and preserved it to use through the winter by freezing it in mini muffin tins. I filled each muffin cup 2/3 full then placed the tin in the freezer until the mixture was firm. When solid I transferred the frozen circles of pesto to a Ziploc freezer bag.
For a quick side dish just boil pasta according to package directions. Take one circle of pesto from the freezer for each serving and defrost it slightly in the microwave. Add the pesto to the drained pasta along with toasted walnut pieces and Parmesan cheese.
¾ cup packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup packed parsley sprigs
¼ cup walnut pieces
1 large clove garlic, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lb bow tie or other pasta
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup toasted walnut pieces
In the container of an electric blender or food processor, combine basil, parsley, untoasted walnut pieces, garlic, olive oil and salt. Blend or process until nearly smooth, turning on and off and scraping the sides of the container as needed.
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain.
Toss hot pasta with pesto sauce and Parmesan cheese. Top with toasted walnuts and more Parmesan cheese, if desired.
Or add shaved parmesan, toasted nuts, pitted olives, and sliced bell peppers to make a pasta salad that tastes great served warm or cold. Serve and enjoy!
Note: Pesto is also good spread on flat bread or slices of French bread and sprinkled with Parmesan or mozzerella cheese. Add a few white beans if you like, some sliced tomato and/or basil sprigs and bake till the cheese softens and the bread is toasty. It makes great snacks or appetizers.