THE USUAL SCRAMBLE around here, end of summer, much to do in garden and on grounds and all that. But we do manage to continue to eat. Mostly.
Sunday, as I said, was a hamburger. Monday we were downhill at the neighbors', celebrating an unbirthday with chuck roast and sausages grilled in the fireplace, zucchini sprinkled with pecorino and gratinéed under a broiler, salad.
Tuesday was Fast Day, the first I've had in nearly two months, and welcome — it's a routine I've come to enjoy.
And today I made pesto. I thought of Doris and Charles Muscatine as I peeled the garlic (Rose de Lautrec, my favorite variety by a long shot). Charles was an English professor at UC Berkeley, where I never met him, though I was an English Lit major; his wife Doris was a fine bouche, the author of a historic book on San Francisco restaurants of the old days and, more importantly perhaps, the editor of a mammoth book on California wines. (Now that I've looked her up on LibraryThing, I realize I've never read her books on San Francisco and Roman restaurants, and I must correct that).
We didn't see the Muscatines socially, to my regret. He was fifteen years older than we, she nine; both moved more easily in academic and social circles than I ever could. We saw them at the opera, because their seats were a row ahead of ours, and they were first-nighters. (I was a reviewer, is why I went on first nights.)
Doris was one of the garlic ladies at Chez Panisse. There were three or four of them, and they got together in the restaurant dining room the afternoon of many Fourteenths of July and peeled garlic, hundreds of cloves of garlic. It was always a pleasure to see her, immaculately coiffed and dressed, handsome and cheerful and enthusiastic, peeling her garlics with a sharply pointed short-bladed knife.
I have such a knife in the little block that houses paring knives of various sorts. I use it exclusively for garlic. For salad I use it to slice the bottom off the clove, then split it in two to remove the sprout, if any; I then crush the garlic with a hand-held crusher.
But today I was making pesto, so I peeled the cloves as I'd so often seen Doris Muscatine do it, slicing the root end off, then running the point of the knife just under the rose-colored peel, slitting it toward the other end, then lifting the peel away. It is such a pleasure to peel garlic, and to recall fine moments over the years…
Oh yes the pesto. The whole peeled garlic cloves, an equal amount of pine nuts, a little salt: smash into a hard creamy paste in the stone mortar with the wooden pestle. Add the basil leaves: these days I cut them in with kitchen scissors. Smash them until they've joined the paste. Add grated Parmesan and continue working the mixture. Add olive oil until the consistency is right.
You may think there's not much pesto to be seen on these whole-wheat penne. Well, I've stirred it in already, with my dinner fork. IT was a fine, pungent, sparkly sort of pesto tonight, nutty and garlicky and abbastanza basilicato. Green salad afterward, with avocado and Green Zebra tomatoes, and a little dark chocolate for dessert.