Summer Herbs Sendoff Meal


I had a modestly successful garden this summer. I managed to grow some eggplant, some herbs, some leaf lettuces, some tomatoes and a bumper crop of hot peppers (apparently too spicy for the critters).

The melons, zucchini, kale and watercress were pretty much a failure. But there’s always next year.

As the cold weather descends, I have had to say goodbye to my garden and harvest what is left before the frost takes it. This meant some straggling dill and basil. I was particularly proud of the dill crop, which I grew this year from seed and am hoping returns on its own next year.

I felt the need to do justice to these plants, which nourished me in both body and soul for the past six months, so I created the following dishes.

Basil pesto is, of course, delicious and fairly traditional. Mixing the pesto with ricotta and using the mixture to top roasted eggplant was the work of a moment, and turned out a delicious side that was both light and hearty. It could certainly stand on its own for a vegetarian meal.

The dill pesto was a bit more of a revelation. I riffed on traditional basil pesto but swapped out almonds for pine nuts and added a healthy squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of zest. The effort yielded a bright, fresh sauce that was heaven-sent to complement fish. I used half on the flounder as described below and froze the rest for a winter day when I will need reminding that summer (and gardening season) will arrive in due course.

Basil Pesto | Dairy
Makes about 1 cup
This can be made pareve by omitting cheese; in that case, the pesto may need additional salt.
3 cups fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pine nuts
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes
Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Store the pesto in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for several months.

Roasted Eggplant with Ricotta Pesto | Dairy
Serves 4
Choose eggplants of equal size and thickness to ensure uniform cooking.
4 small-to-medium-sized eggplants (Japanese or similar varietal)
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup ricotta cheese
¼ cup pesto

In a large glass baking dish, place the olive oil salt and pepper — tilt to coat the surface and allow the salt to melt.

Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and make shallow hash marks in the flesh. Place the eggplants in the oil face down and allow them to sit for about an hour. This will enable the oil to absorb, which infuses flavor and expedites cooking.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees F. Turn the eggplants cut side up and roast them in the oven for about 30 minutes until cooked through; the tops should be lightly browning at the edges and the flesh should be totally soft.

While the eggplants cook, mix the ricotta with the pesto. When the eggplants are done, spread each with a generous schmear of the cheese mixture.

Dill Pesto | Dairy
Makes about 1 cup
Like its basil brother, this can be made pareve by omitting the cheese and adding a bit more salt.
3 cups fresh dill, thick stems removed
3 tablespoons roasted almonds
½ cup mild oil such as canola or vegetable
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 cloves garlic
Salt to taste

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a week or freeze it for several months.

Flounder With Dill Pesto
Serves 4
This can be made with any fish — salmon, trout, cod, etc. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time for thicker fillets.
4 flounder fillets
1-2 lemons, zest and juice
½ stick butter
Salt and pepper
6-8 tablespoons dill pesto
Heat your oven to 300 degrees F.

Cut the butter into small pieces and sprinkle half of it around the bottom of the pan. Place the fillets in the pan and top it with the remaining pieces of butter. Douse the fish evenly with the juice and zest of the lemons and sprinkle it generously with salt and pepper.
Bake for about 25 minutes until the fish is done; it will be opaque throughout and flake easily.

Schmear each fillet with a healthy scoop of the pesto and spread. Serve immediately.

Keri White is a Philadelphia-based food writer.

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