While all times of year have their culinary charms (winter squash warming a cold house is undeniably cozy), I think it's fair to say summer takes the cake. Produce markets are overflowing with sweet stone fruits, tomatoes of every shape and size, squash all lumpy and colorful, eggplants striped and squat, and strawberries bursting through their plastic baskets.
I would argue summer is the easiest time for a cook, since slicing up one good tomato, with a drizzle of oil and a dusting of salt is the most satisfying salad. Eating a peach over the sink, with juice dripping down your arm, is an acceptable dessert after a one-plate-dinner over the grill. Ingredients, the simpler the better, are celebrated in this season and your skills in the kitchen seem to rely more on where you source your produce than anything else.
The GFE garden is bursting with our own summer crops - the classic lettuces, radishes and squash, but also basil (in the inner sunset! - we're pretty proud). Our bush & pole bean production is in overdrive and we have to harvest them diligently to encourage the plant to keep producing. I brought home a bag one day and found a recipe for blanched green beans with an almond pesto. Almonds have shouldered a lot of bad press throughout this drought, and I've been eating them with caution. But, as it tends to happen when something is so vilified, there's now backlash with folks arguing that the carbon footprint of almonds is actually small compared with other foods.
I'll stay out of the controversial argument, and just say that I think hazelnuts would probably be a good substitute if you're staying clear of almonds (pecans or walnuts may work but I feel they may be a bit too "buttery"). These green beans are blanched until just tender, and then serve as a light and bright vehicle for delicious cheesy nut pesto. The pesto recipe makes a LOT, so you are welcome to half it, or save the pesto in your fridge to smear on bread whenever you need a snack. I've determined it's the addition of just a bit of vinegar that makes this pesto so outstanding.
Green Beans with Almond Pesto
Adapted (just barely) from Smitten Kitchen
2 pounds of green beans (mix of colors is nice, though my purple beans faded to green once blanched)
1 c. whole almonds, toasted then cooled
1/3 c. grated parmesan (when using a food processor, just toss the whole chunk in!)
1 small garlic clove
1-2 springs of thyme (just leaves, no stem)
pinch of red pepper flake
1/4 tsp. of corse salt
2-3 tsp. white wine vinegar
1/3 c. olive oil
1 small spring onion, or 1/4 yellow onion, sliced paper thin (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil while washing and trimming the green beans. If using different varieties, keep the larger, tougher ones separate from the thin tender ones. Blanche larger beans for 3-4 minutes and thinner beans 2-3 minutes. Strain and the immediately plunge into a bowl filled with cold water and ice cubes to shock the beans, which keeps them from overcooking. Once cool, strain the beans and pat them dry (dry beans will ensure the pesto coats them well).
Put almonds, parm, garlic, thyme, red pepper and salt into a food processor. Pulse until everything is in small, crumbly bits. Add vinegar and pulse a couple more times. Slowly stir in olive oil and taste - adjust with salt, vinegar or chili if necessary. I think the pesto is delicious when the nuts are still crumbly and haven't been pulsed until smooth.
Toss green beans with about 1/3 of the pesto, and the onion if using. Taste and add more pesto if you like. You can finish with another drizzle of olive oil and sprinkling of salt.