Before I get to this Quadruple Pesto, I need to talk about a few things.
About two weeks ago, the Sunday after the bombings in Boston, I started to think about life in a whole new perspective. It’s not a perspective I might follow, just errant thoughts, pondering, and weighing options.
These thoughts led to my remembering an old friend, someone who was there for me through thick and thin for many years, as I was for her. She had some issues that were alarming at times, so much so that I found myself subtly pulling away from her bit by bit, a slow, torturous break-up. She was starting to scare me, and I told her so many times. She would just laugh wickedly.
Soon life took us in different directions, and our once solid-ice friendship thawed to a drip-drop. We spoke one more time about 4 years ago, catching up and such. I could tell she wanted to renew our friendship, but I had my own problems and didn’t think I could handle hers at the same time.
After the bombings, I started to think about people from my past, really good people. Despite her issues, she was one of them. I knew she had moved, but I’d lost her new number, so I decided to look her up online. She had to have a facebook, twitter, or something since she was the epitome of social . She loved to talk, so there was just no way she wasn’t partaking, at least to some degree, in online chatter, connecting, and reconnecting
There are not many moments more jarring than clicking ‘search’ for a former friend and the first thing that comes up is an obituary.
I stared at the search result in shock, for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t want to open it because it was definitely her, and opening it would confirm it; make it real. I was almost begging it to go away, trying to reach deep for some kind of spiritual system restore to erase the moment or bring her back. I had yet to hear of anyone in my age group, whom I know or used to know, dying, especially someone I was once close with.
Actually, that’s not accurate.
A classmate died in a car accident my senior year of high school, but I was too young to really grasp the situation, or rather, want to fully realize it at such a tender age. We’re all immortal at 17 and 18; we were all going to live forever. His death was a fluke, right?
I recall that the night before his death he gave his girlfriend a hickey and it never went away. We would rub it to make sure she wasn’t putting makeup on it, but it was spooky real, and up until the last time I saw her, maybe Thanksgiving homecoming during my freshman year of college, it was still there and couldn’t be rubbed off.
I knew exactly how she died before I opened the obituary. I took a deep breath and clicked on it.
She took her own life, just as I’d thought. It didn’t actually say ‘suicide’ or ‘took her own life’, but the request for where donations be made in her name confirmed it. She was never suicidal, or so I thought, but with her mental health issues, once I saw the obituary, I didn’t even consider an accident or disease of some sort. I just knew.
She died last December.
I saw she had a facebook page, so I clicked over to it. It’s mostly public, so I could see pretty much all of her wall and photos. She was posting a lot two days before her death, long paragraphs in response to simple greetings or statements, using a lot of capital letters and exclamation points (Hi, Ashlee!). She was manic. I’d seen it many times in person and heard it too many times over the phone. I could hear the rise and fall of her voice through the text.
Since learning of her death, I’ve spoken to some who knew her, including her ex-boyfriend who is a friend of mine, and through whom we met. A lot of them say; she was gorgeous, why would she kill herself?
They don’t understand. Yeah, she was gorgeous, but she didn’t care. Looks don’t trump or fix mental anguish; looks are surface. Beneath her hard-boiled exterior was a soft-boiled core, and undoubtedly, something or someone aggressively dipped into that soft core one too many times. Her demons were not all imagined.
After the horrific bombings in Boston, which hit close to home because I went to college in Boston, just a hop, skip and jump from Boylston street, and now this, I was spent emotionally.
Boylston street was where I spent many a late afternoon/early evening studying at the Boston Public Library when I couldn’t find the books or information I needed at my university library. Afterwards, I would reward myself with a shopping spree and sometimes dinner alone at a cafe or nice restaurant, basking in my new found grownup independence and relishing alone time without feeling lonely.
I felt a a range of emotions about the bombings, from anger to sadness. I almost wanted to personally hurt the bombers, maim them in some way, like they did to the surviving victims Then I felt guilt, guilt that my friend took her life. What if I hadn’t backed out of our friendship and was there to talk to her or be with her that night? Could have I prevented it in some way?
Okay, so I’m all over the place in this post, and the thought of food paired with such sadness seems a little crude, huh? Well it isn’t, and I’ll tell you why. Food is comfort when bad or sad times arise. It’s customary to bring food to those who have lost a loved one, so this is my offering. This pesto is a tribute to my old friend and to those who lost loved ones in the bombings.
Great with all kinds of pasta; love it on spaghetti!
Every night, no matter what time I got home, or even if I was asleep, she would call once her boyfriend, soon to be husband, hit the sack. She never slept at night; she couldn’t. She took her slumbers during the day when it was safe, the daylight a wall of protection, temporarily eradicating her dark inner demons. When late, late darkness fell, and the moon winked goodnight to our part of the world, she needed company, so I always answered the phone, no matter how exhausted I was. We would chat about anything and everything for hours. She wanted to learn to cook and would occasionally ask me to explain certain recipes and the terms in them; the techniques all unfamiliar to her.
She loved pesto, and one summer night while sitting in her backyard talking to me, she inhaled a basil plant in the garden and told me she was dying for pesto at that moment. I can still hear her, in between drags of her cigarette;
“Oh, man, what I wouldn’t do for a plate of pasta and pesto right now. I need to learn to effin’ cook.” But she didn’t say ‘effin’, I’m just keeping it clean here.
Since she slept all day, 2 am was right about dinner time.
I told her she could easily make pesto and took her through it on the phone, step-by-step, giving her a basic pesto recipe using the basil in her yard Thankfully, she could boil pasta, so it was a win for her and a win for me, because it soothed her enough to let me go back to sleep.
The Broccoli Kale Arugula Pesto (Quadruple Pesto) recipe below stems from a cookbook review I did for The Daring Kitchen back in 2009. The photos are from 2009 too, but over the years I’ve played with the recipe, which was a basil pesto with roasted pistachios, and tweaked it (well, changed it, really) with lots of additions and subtractions. To me, it’s perfection; the best pesto I’ve ever tasted. I call it Quadruple Pesto because it’s a mix of broccoli, kale, arugula and basil. I wish my friend was still here so I could give her this quadruple pesto recipe. She would have loved it.
Broccoli Kale Arugula Pesto (Quadruple Pesto)
- ½ lb broccoli florets, steamed for 6 minutes until very tender but still bright greent.(if you don't like broccoli, substitute 1 cup more kale, or basil, or arugula) UPDATE - SEE NOTES *
- 1 cup (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves
- 1 cup (loosely packed) fresh kale (blanch it, then dry it, for more flavor)
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh arugula
- ⅔ cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- ⅓ cup pine nuts OR ½ cup walnut halves, toasted, OR ½ cup shelled and toasted pistachios OR a combination of all THREE nuts to equal ½ cup, OR TWO out of THREE of the nuts to equal ½ cup.
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
- ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lukewarm water (If you're serving it over pasta..use the pasta water)
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- About 1 pound fettuccine or pasta of your choice
- Cook the pasta in salted water, boiling until al dente, then drain, setting aside 1 cup of the pasta water. If you're roasting the broccoli (see notes), do this as the pasta is cooking. If you're steaming the broccoli, also do this while the pasta is cooking. Let broccoli cool.
- Place the first 8 ingredients in a food processor (or you can do it the old-fashioned, arm and wrist straining way - a large mortar and pestle. I do it that way occasionally. I swear it tastes better). Pulse to a thick paste.
- With the motor running fully, slowly drizzle through the feed tube the ¾ cup olive oil and 2 tablespoons pasta water. Process until smooth. Season pesto to taste with salt and peppe, then toss the pasta with the pesto. You can make this pesto 2 days ahead. Pour a thin layer of oil over pesto; cover and chill.
- If serving along side something, like a dip or a topping for fish or meat, drizzle a little olive oil over the top.