I don’t know how it is where you are, but around here, winter has been a little weird. Kind of wishy-washy, I guess you could say. Not that I’m complaining or anything. No sir. I’m just saying. We’ve had the usual load of rain and even a scant dusting of snow, but everywhere, all around, the shrubs are sending out little green buds. Yesterday it was sunny and 50 degrees, and we went to Discovery Park in nothing but jeans and t-shirts – long-sleeved, but still – and collected shells on the beach. We even saw a plum tree with a few open blossoms(!). I grinned so hard that I thought my face might crack open. Then, when we came home, I made lemonade. Lemonade! And spiked it with vodka! And then, while Brandon was out running his favorite thrift-shop circuit, I lip-synced to “Hungry Like the Wolf” about 85 times. It was such a good day. Like spring, really.
Of course, today it’s raining proverbial cats and dogs. As I type this, a man is cowering his way down the street outside my window, dodging raindrops. Best not to get my hopes up, I guess. We’ve got a while to go before spring.
At least we have parsley. That’s all I can say. Our little herb-and-arugula garden beside the house has pretty much gone kaput, but the Italian parsley, it lives on. It’s going gangbusters, actually. It’s nearly three feet tall and almost as bushy as my father’s beard in an old photo I have in the basement, taken in the mid-‘60s, during what I like to call his “Cuban revolutionary” facial hair phase. It may be the middle of winter, but by god, we still have parsley. Which means we can make pesto. Or a variation on pesto, at least.
In fact, that’s what I did last night with our friend Olaiya. We wanted something to dollop on top of a bowl of parsnip soup, and parsley sounded like just the thing, whirred to a slurry in the food processor with a little oil and salt. For added interest, we threw in a small palmful of almonds – Olaiya’s inspired suggestion; I really can’t take credit – and a squeeze of lemon, and before we knew it, the slurry had morphed into a pesto of sorts, earthy and salty and herbal and addictive. (Isn’t that the definition of a good pesto: addictive? I certainly think so.) It was unexpectedly lovely, more delicate than I could have imagined. I liked it atop the soup – which, to tell you the truth, didn’t turn out all that well – but I loved it today, when I made a second batch to stir into a pot of hot fettucine. It went down like a charm.
Now, I’m not going to go telling you that Italian parsley is the new basil, or whatever, because heaven knows they’re entirely different animals. But this wintry “pesto” is a lovely thing in its own right – grassy, fragrant, nubbly with sweet almonds. I’d be happy to eat it any number of ways, even straight off my fingertip. And until spring rolls around, I intend to.
Winter “Pesto” with Parsley and Almonds
You should think of this recipe as a mere starting point. For instance, you can use raw almonds or toasted ones. (I use raw.) You can add garlic, or you can leave it out. (I like it without, but Brandon is pretty pro-garlic.) You could try adding other herbs, or take it in another direction with capers or even anchovies. Just be sure that, when it comes to the parsley, you use the Italian (flat-leaf) kind. Curly parsley doesn’t have as much flavor.
Oh, and this recipe doubles nicely.
2 Tbsp. whole almonds
1 packed cup Italian parsley leaves
4 – 6 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
¼ tsp. salt
1 small garlic clove, pressed (optional)
In a small food processor, pulse the almonds until finely ground. They don’t need to be quite as fine as, say, sand, but close. Add the parsley, 4 tablespoons of the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and garlic (if using), and process to a paste. Taste and, if needed, adjust salt, lemon juice, and/or olive oil. I like to add an additional tablespoon or two of olive oil, just to boost the flavor.
Serve over pasta (with grated Parmigiano Reggiano), alongside chicken or fish, or spooned atop roasted eggplant or mushrooms or boiled potatoes. Wherever, really.
Yield: about ½ cup