EARTH EDUCATION: In which I actually eat my produce

McClatchy InteractiveJuly 21, 2008 

My tomatoes are growing back, and my peppers have sprung forth and begun to grow. I am slightly in awe of one of my tomato plants, which is now about seven feet tall and looks to be bearing well. Nothing is ripe yet, however, and the radishes didn't develop, so I haven't been able to eat any of my vegetables.

Still, that doesn't mean I have nothing to cook with. Four of my herbs - mint, parsley, basil, and chives - are growing well. I put them in thinking they were all useful herbs, stalwarts of the herb community, and that it would be much more economical to grow them than to buy them in flagrantly overpriced packets at the grocery store. My mint plant cost five bucks; if I use it twice, it's already paid for itself. Hooray for economy!

Now I just have to start cooking.

I don't know how to cook, not really. I can make things and make them well, but I've never gotten in the habit of planning and preparing meals. My excuses are legion - cooking means cleanup, my kitchen isn't air-conditioned, it's a pain cooking for one - but the fact remains that I'd like to get in the habit of preparing more meals. So today I decided I'd find some recipes and use my herbs.

My basil plant has gotten huge, so I went there first. Pesto seemed like a good place to start. I'd never made my own pesto, and I went online in search of a recipe. Holy crap, the internet is a daunting place to recipe-hunt. There's just so. Much. Where do you even start? Yahoo!, I figured. At least it's familiar.

I found a couple of pesto recipes. Well, I found a brazillion pesto recipes, with all manner of permutations, and I settled on one that seemed pretty traditional. It called for parsley as well as basil, which I also have in my garden. I decided to make a pizza with it, something simple, with pesto and two cheeses.

It takes a lot of basil to fill two packed cups. I had to return to the plant three times before I finally had enough. My blender had to stand in for a food processor. That meant I had to keep shoving the leaves down into the blades, but eventually everything got blended. Except for the salt and pepper. I forgot them.

Once it was smooth, I slathered it on a pre-made crust - which is as expensive as an entire frozen pizza, if anyone was wondering - and covered it with mozzerella and parmesan. As it turns out, I might have been better off using the recipe with less oil. After five minutes, puddles of olive oil had spread across the surface of the cheese. Ok, well, I'll let it brown a bit. Two minutes later, I went to check again. The oil had run off the pizza surface and started a fire on the bottom of the oven. This is what happens when I make my own dinner.

The pizza was pretty good, after some blotting. And I made something from my garden for the very first time. Yay me.

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