If you are an herb grower, you probably have a hard time achieving your ultimate basil plant. Some people can do it, like my sister Mallory. Some people can't, like me.
Mallory had the most lovely basil plant outside her front door last summer. On more than one occasion, I instructed different sisters to sneak up Mal's walkway, snip a few stems and steal Mallory's beautiful basil for me. It has died now, but sister-stealing is something that ran rampant in my family when I was growing up.
My older sister Megan had lots of cute clothes when she was a teenager. And I wanted to use them all the time. And she never let me. So I resorted to stealing them. One day, I came home from work for lunch and Megan was there. She noticed the bright green shirt I was wearing and wasn't pleased. We got in a fight, said some colorful words to each other and then she left. And then I marched down to her closet, took handfuls of hangers and put them in my car. I then drove to the second-hand store, sold them and bought myself lunch with the proceeds. It was probably the most delicious lunch I have ever had.
Months later, I told my dad of my stealing, selling sins and instead of scolding me, he laughed his head off, as he should. It was quite brilliant on my part.
This basil wasn't stolen from one of my sisters, it was purchased at Sunflower Market. Sunflower sells basil plants and bags of fresh basil. And they are lovely, big, fragrant leaves. Leaves that release the essence of their flavor when pulverized. They pair up with orange zest, fresh garlic and walnuts to make the most delicious, versatile sauce, one that you and your family will annihilate.
1 lb small pasta, which ever shape you prefer (I used rigatoni)
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 2 inch pieces, ends discarded
1 8 oz carton grape tomatoes, halved
3 cups lightly-packed fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1 orange, zested
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
3/4 cup toasted walnuts
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
A few grinds black pepper
3/4 cup - 1 cup olive oil, depending on the consistency you want
In a large pot of boiling salted water, boil pasta until al dente. Drain well and pour into a serving bowl. Drizzle liberally with olive oil and toss. Cover with a towel and set aside, but being sure to toss occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking.
In a large bowl, add ice cubes and water, making a water bath. Set aside. Refill the large pasta pot with water and set over high heat. Once boiling, add asparagus. Boil for 1-2 minutes, or until the pasta is slightly tender and bright green. With a slotted spoon transfer asparagus pieces into the prepared water bath. Be sure all pieces are submerged. Once asparagus is cooled, transfer asparagus to cooked pasta in the serving bowl. Add halved tomatoes.
In the bowl of a food processor, add basil, garlic, orange zest, Parmesan cheese, walnuts, salt and pepper. Process until basil is finely minced. While the machine is running, slowly stream in olive oil until desired consistency is achieved. Immediately toss with cooked pasta, asparagus and tomatoes. Garnish with additional grated Parmesan cheese if desired. Serve immediately.
Yields 6 servings. 6 big servings.
Rookie's Notes: Basil is nearly perfect. Nearly because it discolors easily. So this isn't a make-ahead meal. It will taste the same if you do, but it won't look the same. If you insist upon making this ahead of time, make the pesto, transfer it into a small bowl, pour a little olive oil on top to cover it and then leave it on the counter until you are ready to serve. Why leave it on the counter? If you put it in the fridge, it will be cold and be hard to toss with the pasta.
Look, it's me.