April 26, 2012

Lemons and Parsley and Capers, Oh My!

Parsley pesto with lemon and walnuts.
This may come as a surprise, but I daydream about my garden all the time.

Shocked, aren't you?

When I noticed the first fruits on the vines, a wave of joy came over me. It's another season, and these plants are beginning to feed us. A few weeks ago when I readied the soil and lovingly set each one in the dirt, eating their fruit seemed so far away.

The zucchini and squash plants, which I purchased as young transplants from a local nursery, have taken off and grown so quickly. The leaves on the zucchini plants are extraordinary—I'd forgotten how big they get, and how the stems are covered in tiny little hairs that prickle my fingers when I reach in. The tomatoes are reaching the heights of their cages and green fruits are appearing amid the blooms. It is simply amazing.

Each bed was readied with organic pest treatment, extra compost, pine straw, and organic seaweed-based fertilizer, and the care we took in this step might be what's contributing to the early success of the summer garden. That and the rain, which hit our plants when they were really young and vulnerable. A little rain goes a long way. I am happy to take joy in these plants before summer really hits us; we've already seen 90 degrees this week and that doesn't bode well for the upcoming months.

Part of me still feels like it's spring, and all the recipes that people up north are putting on Pinterest—asparagus tarts, quiches with leeks, parsley and lemon this and that—had me craving something bright and green.

By the time I got home, I found one more zucchini ready for picking on the vine, and decided to put together an entirely green meal. We still have curly leaf parsley in the garden, which I think is so much more fragrant than its flat leaf cousin, so I cut as much as I could for a pesto. This is one of my favorite tricks; rarely do we have pine nuts and basil in the house, but I do love a good herb pasta sauce. Swapping out the basil for parsley and the pine nuts for walnuts (or pecans) makes for a very springy dinner.

Our first zucchini of the season were prepared so simply: I sliced them into quarter-inch-thick rounds and steamed them, then served them with salt, pepper, and butter for a dish that reminded both Ryan and I of summers on our grandparents' farms.

Steamed zucchini with butter. Welcome to summer!

Pasta with Parsley Pesto, Lemons, and Capers

1 cup fresh parsley (curly or flat leaf will work fine)
1/2 cup walnuts
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup grated parmesan (don't skimp here—use the good stuff)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces (half a package) whole wheat angel hair pasta
1-2 tablespoons capers
2-4 lemon wedges
extra parmesan for grating

Set a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta.

In a blender or food processor, blend or pulse the walnuts, parsley, parmesan, lemon juice and zest, and salt until combined. Pour the olive oil in slowly, and blend or pulse. Keep an eye on the consistency of the pesto. If it's a little too dry, thin with more olive oil until it reaches the consistency you like.

By now the water is boiling. Add your pasta and cook until al dente, about four or five minutes. Drain the pasta and toss with the pesto. Serve the pasta and garnish each plate with a spoonful of capers, a little grated parmesan, and a squeeze of lemon.

(This was just right for our dinner; the whole grains go a long way toward filling us up. But if you'd like to add a meat component, this dish would be great with some simply baked chicken or fish.)