Food for Thought

Pesto perfecto: time to kill a plant

I’m not much for going outside the house: nasty things happen out there.

Bugs, sun, rampaging ungulates, etc. One can get hit by lightning, you know.

But, the other day, I poured a glass of a French red, took a few hits and decided, hey, what the heck, I’ve got a buzz going and I’m feeling a bit reckless: I think I’ll venture out on the deck. It was a daring move, but I was in a daring mood.

Turns out, there are a ton of plants out on the deck and below, in the yard — in hanging baskets, in barrels and beds and pots scattered around the area.

It’s Kathy’s annual summer plant project. She’s the Earth Mother type and she likes this sort of thing. She told me a couple months ago about her project for this summer, but I hadn’t been out to inspect the results. I knew she was working on it because, periodically (particularly at ungodly early hours) she is outside yelling and banging on a tin pot to scare away browsing deer. The pests gnaw at her favorites and she has declared war on the local deer population. They ignore her.

I look around. Turns out, there is greenery galore, including some tomato plants in large containers (doomed to produce, at best, one or two mutants we will dote on at season’s end, saying things like “You sure can’t get anything that tastes like this at the store. Nosireee.”)

There are flowers, lots of flowers, the names of which I will never know. Ferns of a sort, here and there. Plants that send odd crawlers down from hanging pots. Blooms that attract hummingbirds. Contrary to what many folks think, hummingbirds are utterly vicious little beasts.

To tell you the truth, it’s kind of creepy outside.

And there, at the end of the deck … a pot containing a healthy basil plant. Kathy’s pride and joy.

This, I can appreciate.

Basil. Dark green leaves, firm, arched, shiny. Rub them and you get … basil.

Follow the scent to its logical conclusion and you have … pesto!

Basil has plenty of uses, but pesto is its crowning moment (with the exception, perhaps, of Caprese salad).

When I was youngster, the herb was not one of my favorites. I was raised in an environment in which salt and dill ruled the day. Oregano was an adventure. Tarragon existed only as a component of béarnaise sauce. Cumin appeared as an additive in Mexican food and the occasional Syrian dish.

Basil?

Never really experienced its essence when I was young. I’m sure it was concealed in some of the Italian fare my family ordered in the restaurants of Louisville (Colorado, not Kentucky — an Italian-rich coal-mining community north of Denver). The cooks at Colacci’s and The Blue Parrot surely secreted the goodie in the wide variety of dishes they produced, but I was none the wiser.

Basil had to wait to become a common element in my cooking until about 30 years ago.

It first made its appearance in pedestrian red sauces, then found its way — in both cases, in dried form — into some vinaigrettes. As I developed as a cook, basil inched its way up the list of desirable herbs.

Then, I discovered fresh basil — an absolute rarity in Denver at the time.

Who knew?

We grew some basil plants on the border of a vegetable garden one year, under the mistaken impression it would ward off tomato worms.

No such luck. But, my, did it taste fine!
Thus I took big steps up the culinary ladder, creating basil oil (it was omnipresent at the time in any number of restaurants — you remember the squiggly ribbons of green oil used as garnish/decoration, don’t you?), to chiffonades of basil and bits of the minced herb in dressings and cream sauces made with fish or chicken stock and, finally, to pesto — soon to become a fave among foodies, a position it held for quite a few years before it faded in the face of tapas, foams, esoteric curries, risotto and the like.

Now, lest I give the wrong impression, pesto is not a staple at our table. Just the opposite, as a matter of fact. It does not make frequent appearances; maybe once a year, or so.

The reason: Made right, this is powerful stuff. Uber basil, if you will. And a little goes a long way.

I gaze at the basil plant in the pot set at the end of the deck and I remember a raised garden at Celadon, a restaurant in Napa, California. The length of the bed, set elbow high next to a row of tables, was flush with basil.

Big boys. These were monsters compared to what is grown here at altitude, with leaves like jungle plants. The air near the beds was filled with the scent of basil and the cooks came from the kitchen armed with scissors to harvest what they needed.

Not so here in Siberia With a View. The leaves on the plants here are smallish by comparison to their California kin, and tend to wither quickly when not tended.

But, Kathy has tended her plant well; there is enough for one hefty portion of pesto.

I decide to kill the plant, denude it, leaving it without the ability to survive.

Pesto is cruel business; the fresh herb is required. You cannot make a decent pesto with inferior ingredients.

Don’t even think of making it with a stale, dried product — those gray-green flakes found in a jar at the market.

Not only must the basil be fresh, all the other ingredients in this allegedly ancient sauce must be as well. There is going to be a tussle between some powerful flavors, and each has to be able to flex its muscles.

The ingredients, rejecting recent, trendy substitutions: basil, garlic, toasted pine nuts, Parmegiano-Reggianno cheese, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper.

That’s it, bronco, no need to travel on.

According to purists, you should make pesto with mortar and pestle. As with most things suggested by purists, this is going too far; the food processor will do just fine as a tool.

I figure after I murder the plant on the deck, I’ll harvest a couple ounces of basil, max. So, I’ll need several tablespoons of toasted pine nuts (best to toast your own), a large clove of garlic, a bit of kosher salt, and two to three ounces of freshly grated parmegiano-reggianno.

Prep is about as easy as it gets.

I’ll wash and dry the leaves then rough chop them. They’ll go into the processor with the nuts, the garlic (mushed in a bit of salt on a cutting board with the flat side of a chef’s knife) and a touch of salt. The mix gets pulsed a while (without overworking it ) then the olive oil is added in a thin stream with the motor running until the desired consistency is reached. The cheese is mixed in and the delightful mess is ready to eat.

In my case, eaten in the simplest way: either atop some fresh cheese, or cheese and chicken ravioli, or just tossed with some al dente linguine — either option with a bit more cheese on the side. A salad, Some bread. A bit of wine. Very nice.

I am ready for pesto.

Now, all I need to do is figure a way to convince Kathy the deer managed to climb up to a second-story deck.


What's Cookin?

Sour Cream Enchiladas

18 medium sized flour tortillas (fajita size)
2 cans mushroom soup
1 pint sour cream
1 pound grated cheddar cheese, divided
1 can sliced black olives
1 bunch green onions, finely chopped
1 can chopped green chilies

1. Warm tortillas in microwave until soft. Mix mushroom soup, sour cream, olives, green onions, green chilies and all but one cup of cheddar cheese in a large bowl.
2. Put a large spoonful of enchilada mixture in center of tortilla and spread mixture to edges. Roll tortilla and place seam side down in a 9x13 baking dish. Repeat steps until all tortillas are used.
3. Spread remaining enchilada mixture on top of rolled tortillas. Sprinkle 1 cup of cheddar cheese on top of unbaked enchiladas.
4. Bake uncovered at 350 degrees in a preheated oven for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly.
Yields 18 servings.


Jose Cristobal Lobato

Jose Cristobal Lobato, of Clinton, Utah, passed away Aug. 13, 2007.

Jose was born in Pagosa Springs April 20, 1940.

On Aug. 13, 2007, we lost the greatest man we ever knew. Jose died surrounded by his family, after living with cancer for many years. We are amazed by his courageous spirit and great personal strength, enduring his sickness without complaint. He was husband, father, grandpa, brother and friend. We will miss him every day of our lives.

Born in Pagosa Springs in 1940, he divided his childhood years by his mother and grandmother. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Air Force. He spent many years overseas in Europe, Spain, Vietnam and in the U.S. While serving in Germany, he met and married Margaret. After 20 years in the Air Force, he retired and the couple made their home in Utah. He then worked for Clearfield Job Corps for 25 years. He made many friends over the years.

Jose had a strong work ethic, a strong sense of accountability, responsibility and belief that hard work and honesty is what it takes to build character and to be successful in life. He passed these traits on to his family as well as his sense of humor and ability to smile and make the best of every situation. He never hesitated to work an extra job or take on an extra task if it meant making it easier for everyone else. He enjoyed family times, all kinds of music, trips to Wendover and reading the paper from front to back in front of his coffee.

He is survived by his wife, Margaret; daughters Anna (Michael) Stanton of Clinton, and Maria (Gerald) Gansey of Roy; and six grandchildren.

His grandchildren were so important to him and he shared a special bond with each of them. He enjoyed taking them for ice cream, on trips to waterslides, skating and spoiling them with the best Easter egg hunts. He was the best Dad and Grandpa we could ever ask for. Surviving are siblings Lola (Levi) Maestas, Jane (Jimmy) Madrid, Steve (Elaine) Lobato, Tessie Chavez, Gene (Janine) Lobato and Leroy (Sylvia) Lobato.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to McKay Dee Huntsman Cancer Institute of Ogden. We extend our thanks to Dr. Hansenn and his staff.

Funeral services were held Aug. 17. Burial took place at Clinton City Cemetery Aug. 18.


Samantha Rae McClure

Bayfield resident Samantha Rae McClure died at her home on Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007. She was 16.

Her cause of death was rhabdomyosarcoma, a form of juvenile cancer. She was diagnosed two weeks after her 16th birthday.

Known as “Sam,” she was born in the same home to Dan and Cathie McClure on Nov. 24, 1990. She lived her whole life in Bayfield, attending elementary, middle and high school there.

Her family said Samantha was well known in the community, both as an honors student and top athlete. She was a member of both the volleyball and track teams, and tied for third in the state in the pole vault her freshman year.

“Sam was truly a shining star, a vibrant, energetic and determined young woman who had the world by the tail,” her family wrote. They said she taught them to savor every moment.

“I’ve learned a lot in this last year about the real thing, life,” Samantha wrote. “I have learned about gratitude and love, power, strength, sadness and pain. I often laugh when I hear people complain, because the things they complain about are so insignificant and ridiculous. What matters is being thankful that you actually woke up to another day. The thing that matters most is love, giving it and receiving it.”

Samantha is survived by her father and stepmother, Dan and Chris McClure, of Bayfield; her mother, Cathie Turek, of Durango; her brother, Drew McClure, of Durango; her grandparents, Bob and Lois McClure of Bayfield, and Beverly Turek of Sioux City, Iowa; and her aunts, uncles and cousins.

A private ceremony for family will be held after cremation.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Samantha McClure Medical Fund at any branch of the Pine River Valley Bank and at Bank of the San Juans in Pagosa Springs.


Jesse Willard Buccini

 Jesse Willard Buccini, 33, died Friday, Aug. 17, 2007, from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident near Ignacio, Colo. 

Mr. Buccini was born Oct. 31, 1973, in McAllister, Okla., the son of Frank and Diane Buccini.  Mr. Buccini grew up and attended schools in New Castle, Colo.   He joined the U.S. Marine corps.  After his service tenure, he attended flight school in Tulsa, Okla., and then moved to Virginia in 1994 and two years later, he met Tammie Phythian and they were married in 1997.  In 1999, they moved to Colorado where Mr. Buccini held a variety of jobs including a pest control job in Durango and was a heavy equipment operator and driver for several construction companies.  He “had the heart of a kid and lived life to the fullest” recalls his wife.  He loved his family and his children and attended the “Cowboy Church” in Pagosa Springs.  He liked hunting, fishing, hiking, playing pool, downhill skiing, motorcycles and flying remote control airplanes.

He is survived by Tammie Buccini (spouse) of Pagosa Springs; Diane Buccini (mother) of Virginia Beach, Va.; Bob Butzer (grandfather) of Indianola, Okla.; Norman Buccini (brother) of Glenwood Springs, Colo.; Christine Riley (sister) of Marlow, Okla.; Wesley Buccini (son) of Pagosa Springs; Jessica Buccini (daughter) of Pagosa Springs; and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.

He was preceded in death by his father and numerous aunts and uncles.

The family asks you to join them to celebrate Jesse Buccini’s life. A memorial service will be held in his honor at Mountain Heights Baptist Church at 4 p.m., Friday, Aug. 24. Pastor Bart Burnett will be officiating.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to a burial fund established at Pagosa Bible Church, 40 County Road 600, Unit E, Pagosa Springs CO 81147. A donation box will be at the memorial service as well.


BIRTHS

Calla Janae “CJ” Cox,

Jake and Carmin Cox are proud to announce the birth of their first daughter, Calla Janae “CJ” Cox, on March 9, 2007. She weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces, and was 21.5 inches long.
CJ was welcomed into this world by her proud family: grandparents Tom and Jan Carnley (aka Papaw and Grammy) of Pagosa Springs, and Tim and Suzie Cox (aka Papa and Meme) of Bloomfield, N.M.; uncles Boomer, Chadd and Bob; aunts Calla, Kay, Christa, Ashley and Sharon; and her great-grandparents Newby, Cox and Carnley. The family currently lives in Fort Collins, Colo.