What to plant for a year of PastaPestoPrego
As another year begins, and another crop of seed catalogs arrives in the mail, my thoughts turn to summer’s garden. And usually, at about that time, I remember the words of the outdoorsy writer Tim Cahill:
“I am a man who sits around at home reading wilderness survival books the way some people peruse seed catalogs or accounts of classic chess games,” Cahill wrote, in the introduction to a book of adventure stories called “Jaguars Ripped my Flesh.”
Successful gardeners must hold within them the best characteristics of both chess master and woodsman, combining the patience of the former and the endurance of the latter, with a survivalist’s intimate knowledge of the landscape and a strategy that’s gazing many moves ahead.
But while gardening could be about survival like the other pursuits Cahill mentions, that’s not really why we do it. We do it for the full-contact grappling contest with nature, the bees and the rain and the weeds and the dirt. We do it because it feels like the thing to do. Am I right? And we do it because the garden also offers us specific things for specific individuals. For me, the garden is a place for whimsy, creativity and relaxation. It’s more about fun than production.
Whatever your goals may be, it’s important to be clear about your expectations. Especially now, when you have a bunch of seed catalogs spread before you. If you’re anything like me, seed catalogs make your credit card itch. So before you go crazy, make a plan.
I like to simplify things by skipping any plants that need to be started inside. I’m done with using a sunny windowsill to start my tomatoes. Unless you have a real grow space and the proper gear, starting seeds indoors is a losing proposition. Your tomato seedlings will probably be an embarrassment compared to the greenhouse-grown beauties you could have purchased at the farmers market.
The only thing I grow in large enough quantities to store is garlic. The rest of the garden, I plant to eat. And to frolic among. Berries and peas for the kids, bitter greens and basil for the adults. All these can be ordered from a seed catalog and planted directly, without having to be grown inside. Climbing plants like beans, planted next to a fence or sunflowers, are a no-brainer to me.
I will leave you with a recipe for PastaPestoPrego, a recipe that I developed in college. It’s a glimpse at what you can make if you plan ahead, and get on the yearlong cycle that this recipe demands.
If you want to get on the cycle, the only immediate job is to order basil seeds, because basil is so damn expensive and easy to grow you really should. Order a big bag and plant them everywhere.
With your garden-fresh basil and tomatoes, make PastaPestoPrego all summer long. In fall, buy bulk quantities of tomato and basil and make a winter stash of tomato sauce and pesto.
- Big pot of boiling water
- Pasta noodles
- Half an onion, minced
- Two garlic cloves, pressed, grated or minced
- Pesto (basil, garlic, hard cheese, olive oil, nuts; all pulverized)
- Red sauce (tomatoes, onions, wine, oregano. You know, red sauce)
- Cheese, such as Parmesan or Romano
- Ground meat (optional)
Before you even take off your backpack, get the pasta water going. Quickly chop half an onion and put it in a pan with olive oil and oregano on medium. Add meat if using. Cook until delicious. Season as necessary.
Add noodles to boiling water. Take off backpack.
Add red sauce to pan when the meat and onions are ready.
When noodles are done to your liking, drain them and toss with olive oil and minced garlic. This, right here, is the most important trick you need to know about pasta: The garlic will cook in the hot oiled noodles and the house will smell amazing.
Then stir in the cheese and pesto. Finally, toss in the red sauce. Add more grated cheese, if necessary, and proceed to eat until it hurts.