One of the most special presents I ever received was an enormous window box made for me by my husband. It hangs outside the window of my brownstone kitchen where it soaks up the sun and, sometimes, too much rain. Once the entire bottom of the box fell out and lots of dirt (and precious herbs!) landed in our backyard garden. But my beloved husband simply made me another which has lasted for years and whose contents are thriving. I'm not much of a gardener but overlooking my neighbor's trees, flowers and well-manicured gardens, I am the master of my herbs. What a pleasure to pick off tiny leaves of fresh thyme, to add sprigs of fresh mint to any dessert in a moment's notice, or muddle a few for a warm peppermint tea. More pleasure still from crumbling fragrant rosemary into a soup or stew, or to mix sweet-smelling lavender with goat cheese and spinach and stuff it under the skin of a chicken.
One of my most requested recipes was a result, however, of the abundance of basil in that window box years ago. Salmon with pesto and pistachios has been copied by chefs and made by home cooks alike since 1996 -- when I first introduced the dish. I simply slather a thick tranche of fatty salmon or voluptuous Chilean sea bass with homemade pesto and thickly blanket the top with freshly-ground pistachios. It is virtually fool-proof and can even be made with a good-quality prepared pesto if you have no time to make your own.
I like to serve the fish with lemony mashed potatoes (you can use your own favorite recipe and add lots of freshly grated zest and a bit of lemon juice) and a pile of something I call green bean "fries." Sometimes I serve a platter of "melted tomatoes" (from Recipes 1-2-3) alongside. Open a bottle of sauvignon blanc -- one of those crisp, delicious ones from New Zealand or South Africa.
Chilean Sea Bass with Pistachio-Pesto Crust & Green Bean "Fries" This is also great made with fresh salmon. Make your own pesto (see below) or use the best-quality store-bought -- fresh, bright green and herbaceous.
4 thick Chilean sea bass, or salmon, fillets (about 7 ounces each) 2/3 cup pesto (made from fresh basil) 1/2 cup finely ground pistachios 12 ounces green beans, trimmed 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 lemon
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Season the fish with salt and pepper and arrange on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread fillet with pesto, about 2-1/2 tablespoons, to cover completely. Pat the pistachios heavily on the pesto to form a crust. Drizzle the green beans with the oil and sprinkle with salt. Place around the fish. Roast for 16 minutes, until the fish is just firm. Grate lemon zest on top. Cut the lemon into wedges and serve with the fish and beans. Serves 4
Pesto Presto 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed and dried well 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 6 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons pine nuts 1 large clove garlic
Put the basil in a food processor with the cheese, oil, pine nuts, and garlic. Process until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.