The Only Walnut Pesto Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Pesto di Noce, walnut pesto, is one of my favorite versions of this beautiful Italian sauce. I first found a recipe for it in a Saveur article, “Glorious Pesto,” but I lost the cut out after I made it and subsequently fell in love. A couple of years ago, I stumbled across the recipe reprinted online.

I’ve been making it this way ever since, and the abundance of end-of-summer genovese basil was a perfect excuse to pull it out of the file. I’ve included the recipe below so you can try it yourself.

Basil

Ten basil plants pulled from my late-summer garden

In my case, I had about ten large basil plants that needed to be used, so I made about the same number of batches. Once you have picked the leaves and washed them well to remove any lingering dirt, don’t be afraid to pack them into your measuring cup.

Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until finely chopped. One other tip is to use high quality cheese. The aged pecorino adds a welcomed bite to the other flavors. One modification that I made to the original recipe is to use a bit of tomato paste in place of sun-dried tomatoes. I don’t think that the little bit of acidity imbalances the sauce at all.
Walnut Pesto

 The messier the workspace, the better it tastes!

Once you have made your pesto, be sure to use it within a few days. I chose to freeze mine in half-pint jars for use during winter. There’s nothing better than the reminder of summer on a cold night. Mangia!

Walnut Pesto

Ten batches of walnut pesto to get me through winter

Recipe: Pesto di Noce

Ingredients 

12 cups packed basil
12 cup olive oil
13 cup toasted walnuts
14 cup finely grated pecorino
14 cup finely grated parmesan
1⁄4 teaspoon tomato paste, optional (I like to use Amore brand)
2 cloves garlic
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Process basil, oil, walnuts, pecorino, parmesan, tomatoes, and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped; season with salt and pepper. Makes 1 1⁄2 cups.

Adapted from Saveur, July 28, 2011

Another One Bites the Dust

Sitting at my desk on Sunday morning, a little nervous each time another major gust came along, I heard the crack. With knowing resolve, I got up and headed to the window to see which of the trees it could have been. Was it another part of the pine? The Elm? One of the ash trees? It didn’t take but a second to see the second large branch of the old pine tree snaking across the side yard and over the driveway. It had taken out a few privets and a small ash tree in the process but thankfully it stayed away from the house and the Elm this time.

With many coastal areas devastated after hurricane Matthew, we were thankful that the storm brought little more than a day of rain and some hefty winds. Unfortunately, a full day of sustained winds with gusts over forty miles per hour was just enough to take out the second part of the tree that had already been compromised.

Pine Tree

The old pine tree’s second major limb snaked across the lawn and driveway

Pine Tree

Now homebound, with no way out and no choice about it, we grabbed the right tools and began to tackle this monster. If nothing else, there had to be a path through before the impending Monday morning work hour. Somehow, “massive tree across my driveway with no way out” sounds a bit too much like, “dog ate my homework!”
Pine Tree Cleanup

Chris clearing the small limbs from the area. The firewood should last for a few outdoor fires!

Several hours later with a twenty-four inch chainsaw, a log splitter, and ample amounts of gasoline, the driveway was clear enough for a car. The rest of the fallen limb could be handled over the next week. Of course, the big next task is planning for the final core of the tree since it is the largest and most unpredictable of the three. Hopefully we will have enough time to plan for this one!

Big Projects Completed as Autumn Arrives

The weather is tempering and the leaves are already falling from the trees. My apologies to all of you that despise the shortening of the days, but autumn is upon us, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. Although it means no more of the best tomato sandwiches on the planet, I will do my best to fill the void with bonfires, dark beer, pie pumpkins, and dining al fresco. With out-of-town guests visiting, Saturday was a perfect morning for a full waffle breakfast at the picnic table under the old Ash tree. Bonfire

With the desire to be outside more comes the desire to finalize some of the outdoor spaces. After so much inside work over the last year, it’s nice to close the loop on some of the big projects and enjoy the small amounts of our newfound spare time.

Basement Stairs of Death

One project that was imperative to complete was the redesign of the narrow staircase leading into the new basement kitchen, installed sometime in the 1950s. Besides the fact that it was a serious safety hazard with slick, worn bricks, too-tall risers, and very narrow treads, the drain-line that it encompassed to move storm water away from the foundation was faulty and continuously backed up into the basement during a heavy rain. The basement flooded several times, even after the new cabinets were installed. No doubt this had to be a priority!

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The old staircase of dangerous, damaged bricks and a faulty drain

The start to the project was simple: carefully tear out the old, damaged bricks and cracked concrete pad and then find the best masons in the area to lay new ones. Away we went with the removal and excavation of the old drain line. It was a mess once we discovered that the exterior drain was actually diverting back into the house’s main pluming lines – a big recipe for disaster. That was quickly capped and a new design was implemented to direct the water through PVC down the hill. This would reduce any risk of interior flooding.

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Phil and Chris look on as removal of the old concrete pad begins

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Mr. Phil completed the first phase of the work and was a real inspiration to watch. He did all of the work himself with only a small excavator and hand tools, his intuition and experience guiding him each step of the way. Thankfully his experience with historic masonry meant that he was very conscious of the existing brick foundation, chimney, and intersections of old and new brick.

Rebuilt Stairs

Once the modified drain was installed, the new bricks could be laid. It was one early morning that I heard the loudest truck coming up the driveway carrying two pallets of the most beautiful handmade bricks. It is incredible how much they look like the original bricks in the foundation.

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Beautiful handmade bricks to match the existing historic fabric of the house’s foundation

The best masons in the area, the father and son team of Hamp and Hampton, laid the bricks using old pattern styles and mixed mortar according to historic standards. Having worked on so many of the area’s oldest homes, their knowledge of historic building techniques was invaluable during the project. Not to mention they are two of the best storytellers. There were plenty of times at the end of a long week that I would look forward to sitting and chatting with them as they worked.

img_9788The new drain is laid and the brick side walls become a reality
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The bricks are laid with care, waiting for mortar, while the new door takes its place

As much as I enjoyed the company of everyone working on the new entry, I was ready to have exterior access to the basement again. Carrying groceries upstairs and then downstairs had become a bit cumbersome after more than a month. Finally the finishing touches were installed including the new door and accent lighting to highlight the beautiful masonry work.

img_0278-3Smokey guarding the new basement stoop

Now we have a well-functioning basement entrance that is both safe and carries the water away from the foundation of the house – just in time to enjoy the outdoors more. My next project is a small kitchen garden just to the right of the stairs with herbs and flowers for cutting. Stay tuned!

Summer’s Bounty

I can’t remember a summer where I’ve enjoyed the fruits and vegetables of the season more than this one. Although it was a busy summer with work and more house projects, there was always a chance to spend time in the garden, to stock up on local produce at the King George Farmers Market, and to get creative in the kitchen with fun ingredients. For the most part, baring a few calamities and skinned knees along the way, summer has been a very joyous occasion.

Blackberry Invasion

One of my favorite Saturday mornings was spent picking blackberries, trying to avoid the impending one-hundred-degree heat index that has pervaded the last month. With winding paths mowed through the tall grass, long sleeves, canvas pants, and enough DEET to take down a small elephant, I ventured out to return with more berries than I consumed. That’s a very tough order.

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I returned with just enough to get started on my favorite blackberry cobbler, which would be the primary course at lunch that day (don’t judge), with another made later in the week. (The second one would definitely be topped with vanilla ice cream). The recipe is a perfect balance of sweet, tender biscuit, and fruit juice that has simmered into a syrup.

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Over the next few weeks, we picked pound upon pound of blackberries that we froze or made into jam. Blackberry jam is one of my necessities for year-round survival, and sometimes I simply eat it with a spoon, it is so good! A few years ago, my friend Nicole told me that cooking jam in copper was the only way to fly. So last spring, I bought my first copper jam pan and gave it a try. I don’t know if it’s the increased evaporation, the contact with the metal, or just the sheer beauty of cooking in copper that makes the jam so much more delicious. Regardless, I’m hooked and will only go back to stainless for jam when it’s a necessity.IMG_0026

Five pounds of wild blackberries simmering in the copper jam pan. The fruit seems to glow!

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The first batch of blackberry jam for the summer

The Garden

In the garden, some of my favorite varieties have really taken off this year. I’m hoping it’s the hard work I put into amending the soil and preparing the beds, but somehow I think it’s just good luck. You might remember my love for white acre peas, which I planted extra of this year. Other favorites that made an appearance include bowling red okra, straight eight cucumbers, early yellow squash, and pineapple cossack ground cherries. What are you growing in your garden?

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The ground cherries look like small paper lanterns on the bottom of the basket

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The white acre peas have been prolific this year, much to my liking

With another few weeks of summer left, the final tomatoes are just now ripening and fall planting will be underway. Here’s to the dog days of summer as we all look to cooler breezes and another joyous season just around the corner.

Ode to a Pine

Thankfully the renovation storms inside have died down, but the summer storms outside have raged many nights. It seems that three or four blow through each week, marked as blobs of orange and red on the radar screen. When you have a large number of eighty-year-old trees scattered around your house, and little resource to keep them as well maintained as they should be, a brightly colored radar blob can be an easy source of anxiety.

With last week’s storm, our fear came true, and we lost part of the old Eastern White Pine. It was inevitable, and we had even planned to remove it in the next couple of months. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a different timeline.

Eastern White PineWith the wind howling and the rain pounding against the study windows, I could still hear the characteristic woosh that only a forty-or-fifty-foot-plus great White Pine could make as it fell. And then there was the expected, and yet very shocking, crack and thud.

Eastern White Pine

With a flashlight in the rain, and a deep fear that it had hit the corner of the house, I could see just enough to know that the tree had thankfully missed the building. Unfortunately, it landed on the side of the old Siberian Elm, taking a large branch with it.

Eastern White Pine

Over the past few days, we’ve managed to cut up the smaller pieces, moving them out of the way to prepare the bigger logs for firewood. It’s not hard to see why the Eastern White Pines were so prized in colonial days. This single felled leader is beautiful and strong wood. Known as “mast trees,” and used extensively in ship building, Eastern White Pines were the source of many attempts at control during, and leading up to, the Revolutionary War.

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It remains to be seen how long we can wait before removing the other two leaders. One is even taller than this one, and neither are in structurally sound condition. Once this pine is gone, there is only one other on the property. It’s perhaps time to think about planting a couple more for future generations.

Eastern White Pine

Many years of wisdom

Eastern White Pine

The old pine in the snow

Vegetable Garden Evolution

With it being nearly 100 degrees in Northeast Virginia with no pool in sight, writing about the garden seemed like a much better deal than working in it. It has been three seasons since I dug my first garden bed out here, and I thought you might like to see its evolution.

I’ve often heard Margaret, my friend who is a landscape designer, talk about the cultivation of new garden beds and how it takes about three seasons to achieve a mature space. While she was probably referring to flower and ornamental beds, I heard Margaret’s voice when we moved in two and a half years ago. I knew that getting started early, even with a basic plan, would yield a mature space sooner than later.

Season 1

The picture below is our first attempt at cultivating an old, fallow field that once held cattle. Ambitious at 40′ x 20′, we tilled in Spring 2014 with a questionable $100 tiller from Craigslist.  The combination of very clay-heavy soil and a cheap tiller made your whole body tremble for hours after, but we got it done and started planting.

Vegetable Garden

The results were amazing to see (and eat!), and I learned so much about seed varieties, what worked, and what didn’t do so well. This would be the basis for the next two seasons. Vegetable Garden

Season 2

The second season was a bit tougher as the indoor renovations had begun and most reserve energy went into completing those projects. But I was still on a mission to keep cultivating the garden space, making it even better after year one.

A cold winter gave me the chance to ponder new designs and best practices. I stumbled across the book, A Rich Spot of Earth, an exploration of Thomas Jefferson’s gardens at Monticello, by Peter Hatch. I was mesmerized. Jefferson’s planning, thoughtfulness, and overall vision to create a diverse and beautiful garden was inspiring to me. After a visit to Monticello and some drawings of my own, I had a clear path forward.

Vegetable Garden Plans

Now knowing more about sun angles, wind, and the soil, we decided to rotate the entire garden angle just slightly to better meet southern exposures, and we expanded its overall size to 60′ x 30′. This increase would give me the ability to reduce some of the bed sizes for better access for weeding and planting, further reducing soil compaction from having to walk on it. One of my goals is to minimize the need for deep tilling altogether, emphasizing a low-impact approach at the beginning and end of each season. The garden’s size increase would also allow me to add walkways, fencing, and other design elements to the space.

Vegetable Garden

Before the second season ended, I was able to clearly define the new garden beds, adding topsoil and grass seed to the walkways. As Spring 2016 rolled around, I would have the new layout intact and be ready to focus on the beds and fencing. 

Season 3

As season three came out of a very cold winter, everything was well on its way. The many soil amendments were starting to yield a healthy loam, the grass seed had taken off to mark clear paths, and my own skills had hopefully gotten better with two seasons of learning.

Vegetable Garden

Miss Bit keeps an eye on work progress in April 2016 – the ultimate project manager

I still have a lot of work to do on the fencing and landscaping around the space, but that gets better too as I find new inspirations along the way. You might remember the dancing lady that was restored earlier this year and now graces the space. After the perimeter garden fence is complete, electrical and lighting will be installed, and water will be routed for irrigation.
Vegetable Garden

The vegetable garden, July 2016

Although we had a very prolonged, wet spring, I was finally able to get a few seeds in the ground. Many were new varieties that I had not tried before and some were old favorites that I’ve had great success with during past years. Here are some of my favorite heirloom varieties that you will find in my garden each year:

  • Cherry Belle Radish
  • Maxibel Haricot Vert
  • Straight Eights Cucumber
  • Hale’s Best Muskmelon
  • Lacinato Kale
  • White Acre Peas

With a new kitchen and a flourishing garden, I can’t get enough time to cook and create. Hopefully you can stop by and join me for a fresh garden meal one day soon!

Garden ShedMy garden hub

Miss Bit

Garden Oversight Consultant