Okay, I've started you on your levain journey, and hopefully you have a good basic idea of how to begin. But the thing about a starter is that it's a long-term relationship. Or at least it can be...
Probably the best thing about living out in the country is being able to see so much wildlife. The trick to seeing wildlife, however, is that you can't be looking for it. Sort of like one of those optical illusions where the image seems random and disorderly, but if you relax your eyes you can see a very clear, concrete picture of something. Dolphins or camels or unicorns usually. We don't have any of those around here, but in the past few weeks I have seen plenty of other fauna. Black bears, otters, great blue herons, beavers, deer, groundhogs, pileated woodpeckers...And yet the more I see of the field and forest, the less I understand it. Otters in the Southern Appalachians? How did they get here? Were they always here? Did the Cherokee hunt them for their pelts? It's a curious world. Curiouser and curiouser.
Unfortunately, I can't just sit back and enjoy watching the animals at their antics. The deer have mostly been skittish, staying away from our little settlement in the river valley. The groundhogs, however, are not so shy. Sitting at the test kitchen table, typing away at my computer, I saw something move out of the corner of my eye. Groundhog. On the front porch. Eating the gourd vines like chow mein noodles.
Off to the woods for to catch a groundhog.
After reading up on it, I think the best strategy is a live trap. Perhaps if I release him somewhere lush he won't even want to come back to my scrawny garden. And that's the hardest thing for me to understand: why a groundhog, surrounded by summer's thick growth, would want a squash vine. Maybe they have a taste for it. If only he knew he will soon be embarking on a little voyage...
He hasn't shown an interest in anything else, though. The tomatoes and herbs and kale are still thriving in fits and starts. Most evenings I walk through the garden picking a little of this and a little of that, not really getting much of any one thing. Garden flotsam. But honestly, I find this part of gardening to be my favorite--having to improvise. After a long day of testing recipes by the book, being able to throw something together in an improvised lickety-split dance is a true pleasure.
I sometimes worry about authenticity. For instance, today's recipe is neither authentic pesto nor authentic tabbouleh, but it is what came out of the garden, and it does taste good. Isn't that what really matters anyway? Besides, who gets to decide what authentic really is? I suppose at the end of the day most cuisines are pidgins. All I can really advise you to do is cook good food.
For this dish, you will only need 1/2 cup pesto, but the pesto recipe makes 1 1/2 cups. What's up with that? Well, I had lots of basil. If you have lots of basil you might want to make the full batch. If you have less, feel free to make a third or a half batch.
First, make the pesto. In a food processor, pulse until nearly a paste:
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup walnuts
3 cups basil leaves, packed
Grated zest of one lemon
3 ounces grated Parmesan
With the food processor running, pour in a thin stream until the desired consistency is reached:
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Add salt to taste.
For the tabbouleh, pour into a large bowl:
1 cup fine-grain bulgur
Pour boiling water over the bulgur to just cover it. Let sit until the water is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch very briefly, about 15 seconds:
1 small bunch (about five leaves) Tuscan kale
Set aside to cool. Once the bulgur has absorbed all the liquid, stir in 1/2 cup of the pesto. Then, chop and add the kale. Stir in:
3 medium yellow tomatoes, chopped
1/2 an English cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
Juice of one lemon
Add salt to taste.