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Pistou for you

(post, Andrew Turner)

Cooking inspiration can come from anywhere. When it comes to dinner, it’s usually a collection of the day's events that turn into a craving. One day recently, as I arrived at the West Linn farmers’ market, I already knew the wine that I was planning to serve that night and the style of dish I was going to cook. How that came together, and the exact ingredients, were left to the market to fill in. 

It all started as I was leaving for work that morning and noticed that my beloved fig tree is once again alive, awake, and standing proud basking in the early summer sun. This immediately flooded my mind with memories of the French Riviera. I had also just run across a very unique and utterly delicious rosé from Italy’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo region. This was not a wimpish rosé, but one that begged to be paired with bold flavors. Its flavors dance from tart cranberry to perfectly ripe raspberries, with a mouthwatering dose of pink grapefruit tossed in. 

What first came to mind was a French-style broth called pistou that’s a twist on the classic pesto. What if I grilled a beautiful chunk of wild Chinook salmon and floated it on top of crisp vegetables and pasta all moistened by this fragrant, herb-flecked broth? I was off to a great and inspired start to dinner!

There’s no recipe here, just a couple of techniques to follow, and then, you too can make your own private pistou.

Really, any vegetables would do. But I wanted a contrast in textures, colors, and flavors. At the market I found tender English peas (so tender that I shelled just a few and realized that the outer husk was tender enough to eat whole), kohlrabi, kale, spring onions, young broccoli florets, and yellow squash. 

I made a quick stock with the pea shells; one of the spring-onion bulbs; a sprig each of rosemary, tarragon, and thyme; and a clove of garlic cut in half. Next I covered the vegetables with a light chicken stock, but you could use water or vegetable stock. (I chose chicken stock, as I wanted a bit more body and texture.) I simmered that for 15 to 20 minutes, until all the vegetables were meltingly tender; then I strained it and set it aside. 

|[%image vegetables width=300 caption="Market inspiration."]|[%image "for the broth" width=300 caption="Make a simple broth."]|

I brought a large pot of water to a boil as I prepared the vegetables. Wash, dry, dice, and, if you cook like me, sip wine while you work. The kohlrabi I peeled and cut into matchsticks, the squash I diced, the kale was washed and cut into ribbons, the broccoli florets were separated. Kept separate, the vegetables were now staged to be added to the pasta water or broth at the right time.

|[%image "cut veg" width=300 caption="Cut the vegetables and set them aside."]|[%image herbs width=300 caption="Take herbs from the garden — whatever looks good."]|

Next, I took a walk into the garden to look for the perfect herbs. I chose tarragon, Italian parsley, English thyme, lemon thyme, tiny Greek basil leaves, and chives. Myriad herbs will work here — use what inspires you and what you have on hand. I brought the strained stock to a boil, added one thinly sliced garlic clove, then added the herbs. I quickly pulsed the mixture with a hand blender to make an intoxicatingly fragrant herbed broth, then set it aside off the heat to retain its bright green color.

|[%image "fish and onions" width=300 caption="Ready for the grill."][|[%image dinner width=300 caption="Pistou with salmon."]|

In the meantime, my grill was now hot with glowing-red mesquite charcoal. A bit of olive oil drizzled over the salmon and one spring onion cut in half lengthwise, seasoned with salt and pepper, and away we go! The pasta went into the water (I used small pearl-sized balls called Acini di Pepe), and then I was thinking about which vegetables were going to go in when. I tasted the pasta to gauge doneness, then put the kohlrabi into the pasta pot with the pasta about three and a half minutes before the pasta was done, the broccoli about a minute after that, and the kale just before draining. 

As I pulled the pasta off the stove, I replaced it on the burner with the herb broth; the diced yellow squash went in to cook for a few seconds. I tossed in the pasta and vegetables, then took the onions and salmon straight from the grill. There you have it — dinner was served. 

Here’s to the good life!

cut veg, l

dinner, l

fish and onions, l

for the broth, l

herbs, l

vegetables, l

reference-image, l