Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Crafty, Home-Foraged Meal: Brussel sprouts, pomegranates, and parsely-pecan-date pesto

There are moments in a life when all a person wants is to be alone, when the sonic and emotional weight of all those intrusions into the dreamworld of solitude crush upon the weeping soul, and the mere thought of leaving the house threatens to burst the delicate membrane of sanity. But then there is the body, with all of its demands. I am hungry. The call must be answered. And, tragically, there is nothing in the house to eat for dinner.

That is when the immigrant-raised, hoarder mind (and longtime fan of MacGyver) springs into action, digging through the forgotten annals of the crisper and cupboard to work its alchemy upon the sundry wilted, yellowed, dehydrated and jarred bodies of potential that had heretofore given up all hope, resigned to their appointment with the compost bin of time.

Here is how I managed to stay inside on this cold, winter night and feed myself with the sorry remnants scattered around my kitchen. (A snowless, California night, albeit, but one spent in a drafty shelter poorly equipped to keep out out the elements.)

What I unearthed around my kitchen:

- Wilted, fading brussels sprouts

- Yellowed parsley belonging to my roommate (and sometime blogmate) Erin. I justified requisitioning it on the grounds that she had already used it for the purpose she bought it for and who ever knows what to do with all that extra parsley and besides she had just gone through all my farmers' market honey last week when she had a cold, so owed me some provisions.

- Half a pomegranate languishing in the bottom of a tupperware

Seemed a little sketchy but the pomegranate smelled okay. I sliced off the end just to be safe.

- Assorted bits & bobs, odds 'n' ends (Piave cheese, garlic cloves, dried shitake mushrooms)

- Penne pasta cooked who knows how long ago

It turned out to smell a little rancid, so I bit my lip and threw it out. Luckily there was still some dry pasta left in the pantry, so I set some water to boil with salt and olive oil.

I stood thinking for awhile about how I was going to make this all taste good and not be depressing. Then the parsley gave me an idea. Tacked to our kitchen corkboard was a page from the Wall Street Journal I had come across at Stable Cafe back in October featuring fall pestos that, well, kind of blew my mind. An unlikely source, yes, but enterprising captains of industry hold dear to their weekend hobbies. The article "Goodbye Basil, Hello Pumpkin Seeds," gives ideas for 11 different pestos that go beyond the basic basil + pine nuts + olive oil equation.

I had never gotten into pesto before but this article was full of creative possibilities. Among them were:

pistachios + breadcrumbs + mint

lardo + rosemary

rapini + parmesan + porcini

walnuts + grapeseed oil

pumpkin seeds + spinach

Basically, just throw a complementary combination of some herb, plus nuts, and oil into a food processor (or grind it with a mortar and pestle if you're into Old World suffering) and the result is alchemical. With very few ingredients and relatively little effort, you could impress many many mouths and add a tasty topper to many many things (pasta, toasts, dead animal, other vegetables).

One of the parsley medleys reminded me that I had pecans and dates in the cupboard from a recent trip to the country store in Sebastopol, north of San Francisco, and I proceeded to make the most magic magic magic pesto ever:

Pecans, Parsley, and Date Pesto
Recipe adapted from Alon Shaya, of Domenica restaurant in New Orleans

In a food processor pulse together a 1/2 cup pecans, 1/2 cup parsley leaves (just chop the stems short but you barely have to chop the leaves), 1/4 cup Parmesan (or a salty, hard Italian cheese), 1/2 cup pecan oil (I used hazelnut oil), and a teaspoon of kosher salt until combined but not totally pureed. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in four chopped dates and two teaspoons balsamic vinegar.

The recipe recommends spooning the pesto over duck, pork, or ricotta spread on grilled bread, and I could see how the sweet bits of the dates would go well with one of these meats, but it was pretty exciting over penne pasta.

Before mixing the pasta and pesto, I cut the ends off the brussels sprouts and picked off the sadder yellow petals and sliced them in half lengthwise. Then I sauteed the three cloves of minced garlic until just brown, added the brussels sprouts, sprinkled them with salt, and sauteed for about 8 minutes, covering the pan for part of the time so they would steam through. About halfway through, I also threw in these shitake bits that I had rehydrated in the boiling pasta water and fished out with a mesh strainer spoon. As a last minute inspiration, I also spooned in a big dollop of some crazy delicious duck fat concoction my friend Jesse had left over here when he made us cassoulet the other day (a life-changing meal).

While I waited for the brussels edges to get crispy, I rescued the still-good seeds from that old pomegranate.

After everything was cooked, I tossed together the penne, the pesto, and the brussels-garlic-mushroom mix, then sprinkled the whole thing with my precious pomegranate seeds and grated Piave cheese.

Like the article's simple yet brilliant ideas for pesto, the meal felt like it was conjured out of next to nothing. Each bite was a miracle, the pomegranates bursting tartly over the nutty pesto, an occasional creamy sweet bit of date, and the salty garlic crunch of the brussels sprouts. I kept whispering, "I am a magician. I am a magician. I am a magician." A lack of humility that Angus MacGyver would surely disapprove of, but we should all be entitled to our private moments of megalomania, as long as they dissipate once another witness enters the room.

1 comment:

-thepaisleyfox said...

This looks absolutely delicious and I am itching to try it. :3