big President Bill Fuller, September 2018
When my daughter first started eating solid foods, she ate pretty much everything we gave her. Thai Larb Gai, Indian Gobi Aloo, Mr. Shu sushi at Umi, she ate it all. My pride knew that her advanced and adventurous palate reflected my passion for food. “Of course big Chef Bill Fuller’s firstborn eats everything! She was exposed in the womb to all sorts of deliciousness and her tastes evolved and solidified before she took a breath! She will be my lifelong adventurous eating buddy.”
As her third birthday approached, everything went white. Chicken breast trimmed absolutely clean became her preferred meat. Steak had to be lean and completely denuded. Rice ruled, but don’t make the mistake of putting much more than a few drops of sauce on it. She cried if her bagel toasted and became actually browned. Turkey sandwiches, no dressing at all. The worst was pasta. She would only eat plain, buttered pasta. If served pasta with sauce, she would work on the edge pieces that had the least sauce. We worried about her getting enough calories and nutrients.
Of course, this change didn’t happen clearly, her new dietary habits delineated with a memo and a flow chart. It happened slowly, frustratingly, infuriatingly a tiny bit at a time. Meals barely touched, crying at the table, and irritated parents. But over the course of a few months she had communicated her new preferences to us. We fought back, of course, but often found a way to adjust slightly so everyone could have a peaceful mealtime. Big Mr. Chef’s daughter had her earliest (of many) lessons in humility for her father.
At least she loved milk. Huge glasses of organic, Vitamin D fortified whole milk. Most of her physical development during elementary school came from square two quart cartons.
Of course, we continually tried to add back in and were regularly rejected. We continued to prepare foods fit for grown adults. So we would put it on her plate, the edge of the pasta with the least sauce, the leanest slices of the meat, pulled pork with no sauce and no fat and not on bread and not really any brown crusty stuff. She would eat a little. We’d sneak a little flavor in, sometimes win, often losing. I have to clarify that we never went to fully separate meals. That would have been knuckling under to her wishes. We just worked the edges.
At one point, a few years into it, I made a big batch of pesto from the garden basil. It was the end of the summer, I couldn’t battle the weeds and slugs and sun anymore, and the basil was about to bolt. I made the big batch, froze most of it, and made pasta with vegetables and pesto for dinner. With trepidation, I tossed ALL the pasta in the pesto and placed in on the table. It was a sauce on pasta, bad. Not only that, it had little bits of pine nut and cheese in it. Really bad. And finally, it was GREEN. Terrible. I foresaw a protracted battle ending in tears.
She spooned some onto her plate (from the very second she could she insisted on serving herself every time and has to this day). She took quite a portion. I asked her if she really thought she would eat that size portion. She replied,
“I love pesto.”
And dug into the pasta. We had never fed her pesto, nor had memory of her learning to like pesto. She deftly avoided the vegetables but consumed all her pesto pasta. Since then, she has adored pesto. We have made it together in both hot summer kitchens of her life. We have eaten it hot and cold. When we have it, she cooks herself some pasta and tosses it with pesto for a snack. She recently made pesto pasta for her boyfriend!
Since that time, to our relief, she has added foods back into her diet. It happens suddenly and she acts like she has eaten the item forever and how could we have been so foolish as to have not known she likes this thing. She still, however, trims off all the fat from her meat.
I love pesto in late summer. The day comes when I pick all my basil and make a huge batch. I generally make a green mess of everything. Here are some pointers:
- The freshest, most robust basil is the best. Don’t settle for limp or black basil.
- The flower tops and smaller stems are fine in there. When in doubt, taste it. The upper soft stems taste like basil and puree just fine.
- Use primarily large-leafed Italian basil, but some other varieties mixed in are fine. This year I had a robust Thai basil plant and added about 25% Thai basil to my batch. Totally delicious.
- You can add other herbs, too! Arugula is really nice. A touch of mint is delicious, especially if you are going for a more Eastern Mediterranean flavor. Some oregano for a richer flavor.
- Kale pesto is not necessary. Stop.
- Use fresh garlic and as much as you want. Some people like it less garlicy, some more. Use the attached recipe as a baseline and adjust.
- To toast or not to toast the pine nuts. I waver on this. Most recipes suggest toasting the nuts. However, I think the sweet richness of pine nuts is nice without the toasted overtones. I think, too, that the pine nuts are a little less rich once toasted, that they lose a little of their oil. Your call. But if you do toast them, allow them to cool all the way before making the sauce.
- USE A BLENDER! I don’t know why so many recipes suggest using a food processor. A blender makes a nicer pesto with a better texture. I believe it stays greener longer. However, you will have to work it down the sides with a rubber spatula occasionally. You can turn the blender off or not when you work down the sides with the spatula but, be advised, that the rubber chunks from a blended spatula never work out in the final dish.
- Stir in the cheese so it retains some texture.
- Use pesto on more than pasta. I have attached two recipes that do not have pesto on pasta. However, the best application of pesto in the universe is to dip still-warm freshly baked bread into freshly made pesto.
Make a lot of pesto and eat it all!