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Real-Life Kitchen

Presto Pesto

By Sara Bir

There's a game that I play in times of desperation. I call it We Have No Food, But I'm Going to Make Dinner Anyway. Sometimes I play the game because I'm too lazy to go to the store, and sometimes I play because we literally have no money until the next paycheck arrives.

Mr. Bir Toujour does not play this game. He plays a game called Let's Go Charge Sushi, which is a lot more fun but much less practical than my game. Granted, cooking this way is somewhat like digging through the sofa for laundry money, and it can yield culinary disaster. Case in point: My brother once found nothing in his kitchen but polenta, a head of cabbage and a tin of curry powder so he made curried cabbage polenta for dinner, which seems only a little more alluring than supping on a bowl of vomit.

But sometimes the game can offer unexpectedly tasty results. Earlier this fall, I opened the fridge to see nothing but picked-over bunches of parsley and cilantro. I picked the parsley and cilantro leaves from their stems and made them into a pesto. We didn't have any pine nuts or walnuts or any nuts, but we did have pumpkin seeds, plus one withered clove of garlic. Along with a good blob of olive oil and a fat pinch of salt, these disparate odds and ends were subjected to a round of pulses in the food processor, and joined forces to become real food.

I cooked half a pound of linguine and combed the freezer looking for possible additions. A handful of frozen green peas and the remains of a package of frozen vegetarian meatballs did the trick. Though our dinner was quite monochromatic, offering round, green things of two sizes, it was not only edible, but enjoyable. I've even made the pesto again, on purpose.

Emergency Pesto
You can use different combinations of fresh herbs--like basil or chervil--in this, just as long as they are not too assertive (e.g., sage and rosemary).
1/4 c. raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1 c. loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1 c. loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1 small clove garlic
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt

Put the pumpkin seeds in a small, dry skillet and toast over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the seeds are fragrant, lightly browned and beginning to pop.

Combine pumpkin seeds, parsley, cilantro, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt in a food processor and process to a medium-fine paste (if the pesto seems to stiff, add a teaspoon or two of water and process again).

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From the December 7-13, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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