We’re moving on up! I was invited to do a cooking demonstration recently at The Old Country Road School, a K-5 school in the Hicksville Union Free Public School District. The school was celebrating its successful garden project, now in its third year! It being a school, I figured it would be a hoot to let my then-five-, now-six-year-old show everyone to make one of his favorite sauces – hand-ground basil pesto! I mean, if a five-year-old can do it, why can’t everyone?
He was a star, waving the garlic around, handing out basil for the kids and their parents to feel and smell, and smashing the pesto into a paste with great gusto. He wasn’t a bit nervous, but I think there are a few Food Network stars who should be…Come to think of it, maybe I should be nervous too?
We had a really good time and it was wonderful to watch the dozens and dozens of kid and their families celebrate their growing achievements. Best parts of doing a demonstration? Having all your ingredients prepped and in tidy little containers just like on the cooking shows…and just like on the cooking shows, having a bunch of beautifully pre-made dishes to serve to the studio audience. And unlike some folks who sell you food that can kill you in order to make a buck, I had no such crimes on my conscience…..1) my food won’t kill you and 2) I didn’t make a dime on the deal, not to mention a buck! Just a whole lot of satisfaction and fun.
Now don’t think I had my son there pounding enough pesto for a couple hundred people! I prepared two different food processor pestos ahead of time and smeared them on thinly sliced baguette from Fairway Market (the bakery guys kindly donated some food service gloves — the customer service at Fairway is always terrific, but that was extra nice! and yes, i wore gloves like a proper lunch lady) for a crowd of people big and little.
That it was a school garden was also so inspiring because the whole nut allergy thing seems to be exploding in schools and many families are in dire need of ways to amp up the pleasure and keep withing dietary restrictions. This drove me to experiment with nut substitutes. Sunflower seeds were my go-to and worked out so well! They added a nutty flavor and consistency to this cilantro and parsley pesto. I froze the leftovers until such time as I needed them for a potluck at Restoration Farm. On the little guy’s suggestion, we made a cilantro and pea pasta with peas from the farm and our own garden (adding queso fresco – Mexican crumbling cheese)!
Education, food, farm-to-table, kids, friends, social events, my son….I love it when absolutely everything in my whole life comes together! Thanks to Sue Simon, the school social worker who has gone to enormous lengths to bring vegetable gardening into her school – building community, curriculum and all good things, who spearheaded this project and who I met when she presented at a Small Farms Summit a few years ago (thus the invitation). Also thanks to to the Old Country Road School and its principal Anthony Lubrano , and a shout-out to Whole Foods which awarded the project a competitive grant to expand from the original 5 raised bed to the current 11. Thanks also to Kara Gallagher, Robin Rivera, and their girls for coming out to support us, take pictures, and eat!
Cilantro & Parsley Pesto with Sunflower Seeds (no nuts)
1 Cup cilantro leaves (rinsed and patted or spun dry)
1 Cup flat-leaf parsley leaves (rinsed and patted or spun dry)
½- 1 Cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic (about 2 Tbs)
½ Cup unroasted sunflower seeds (may be toasted in a dry pan for 30 seconds to a minute)
2 generous pinches salt
Fresh lemon or lime juice to taste
½ Cup grated grana padano, parmigiano reggiano, or other fine grating cheese
Place all ingredients except cheese in a food processor and spin until well-blended. If you are planning to freeze then stop here and spoon pesto into ice cube trays and freeze. Otherwise, hand-mix cheese into pesto and serve with pasta or as a spread for crusty bread.
Additional ideas: stir in fresh peas and 1/4 Cup queso fresco (Mexican crumbling cheese), crumbled, or top with grilled shrimp.