Be Relevant

Relearning everything we've forgotten.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A weekend full of no-till, pesto and pasta, and more basil - P.S. I need a good pasta recipe

Saturday Morning

First off I have to tell you how incredible La Milpa Organica is.  Just in case you don't know it is the farm I volunteer with on Saturdays and Sundays.  In exchange for labor they teach me how to garden organically.  Leslie is the co-founder of the farm and the one I work with the most.  She spent most of her professional career as a school teacher.  This is probably why I like learning from her.

One of the many reasons why Leslie, and La Milpa Organica, is incredible is because she is treating me like one of their apprentices.  We engage in discussions on soil type and marketing and many other things that are important to running a farm.  Last week I sent her an article on no-till gardening and asked what she thought and if we could experiment.  Low and behold on Saturday she turned over a used bed to me and let me experiment.

The bed had a thick woody stemmed vegetable that had long gone to seed.  I thought it was broccoli from an early spring harvest but I didn't ask.  I opted to pull those out by hand.  There was only half a dozen anyway.  The rest of the bed we covered with about a 3 inch layer of straw.  Straw is much better to use then hay as it has less of a chance of seeding on you.

Grace, another volunteer, spreading straw

After the layer of straw we added a couple of tractor loads of composted horse manure.

Yes, that's a camo hat

At this time we have a good 3 inches of composted soil in which we decided to plant.  The next step was to hook up the water.  We ran two drip irrigation strips which allows us to have 4 rows of radishes.  That's what we decided to put in there.  Three types to be exact:  Pink Beauty, French Breakfast, and Easter Egg. They grow fast so we'll know if our experiment worked sooner rather than later.

That's a great looking bed!
After seeding and setting the seeds we gave this bed a really good watering.  Went over it twice very slowly and allowed the water to soak in.  Finally, we covered the entire bed with a thin layer of straw to act as mulch.

This should help keep the weeds from coming up too bad and keep water evaporation down to a minimum.  Well we will find out in a week or so.

Saturday Evening

When I left the farm I grabbed a bunch of fresh cut basil.  I don't know what did it but I couldn't stop thinking about making pasta with fresh pesto.  I love pesto.  Plain and simple.  I could never get enough of it when I lived in Italy.  It's so easy to make and all you need is a food processor or a blender like I have.  The only problem with a blender is that it's blades are designed to create a vortex in liquid.  Meaning if you don't have liquid, or enough liquid, when you try to mix you'll get a couple good passes then everything is on the side and the blades are just spinning.  I just unplug it and use a wooden spoon to push it back down till I add the olive oil.  Good pesto is up to your taste buds so I think the only important measurement is at least 2 cups of fresh basil.  After that add everything else to taste.  But here's my recipe just in case.

2 cups basil
1/4 cup pine nuts - toasted
blend together
3 cloves garlic minced
blend together
1/2 cup olive oil
blend together
1 cup parmigiana cheese
blend together

That seems to work for me.  Then chill it for an hour before you use it.  I got so excited from making the pesto I decided to make homemade pasta.  What could be easier then flour, salt, egg, water?  I used this recipe.  I made a double batch and taking the suggestions of the commenters I cut the salt in half and added 1 tsp. olive oil per batch.  Here's my complaint.  I had to use a lot more water than what the recipe called for.   Anytime that happens I just have this feeling that I screwed up on something.  So I had to work the dough a bit and in the end I think I over worked it.  After kneading it into a ball I wrapped it in plastic wrap and let it sit for 15 minutes.  Lightly flour your counter and begin rolling it out.  

Rolling dough is an art form and an exercise in patience.  I usually play three rounds of roll and wait and my nerves are all the much better for it.  I roll till it starts to kick my butt and won't roll anymore.  I wait 15-20 minutes and come back and it usually rolls out to double its size.  I wait again and the final roll gets it smooth.  I skillfully cut the pasta with my pizza wheel.  Hey, this is low budget here.  Needless to say the pasta tasted great and was even better for lunch today.

Which brings me to this morning.  My first job of the day was to pinch the blossoms off the basil.  

This morning was chilly as the marine layer was just hanging on the coast line.  The leaves of the basil plants were cool to the touch.  The blossoms popped right off and left the air smelling of fresh basil.  By pinching off the blossoms and preventing the basil to go to seed, you will promote more leaf growth.  More leaves means more pesto!


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