Here’s a simple, flavorful dish suitable for a quick weeknight supper that takes only around 45 minutes from start to finish.
Back in the summer between my junior and senior year I visited a handful of countries in Europe with our high school German Club. We spent a whirlwind week and a half in and out of two coach buses exploring cities, touring castles and cathedrals, admiring artistic masterpieces, and literally shouting from the mountaintops. The second half of our visit was an immersion of sorts, each student living with a different family in a village south of Frankfurt in southern Hesse, Germany.
On instruction from our teacher, talk with our host families and at school was to be a learning experience, and therefore strictly in German. Shy and not at all conversationally confident in this second language, my host father and older brother were gracious enough to bend the rules and intersperse a good bit of English into our interactions. My host mother, on the other hand, was either as timid as me, valued her silence, or couldn’t speak much English, as we seldom spoke more than a few sentences at a time. Still, she headlines my fondest memories under their roof.
Every morning I would help her prepare the lunches she sent my “brother” Ralf and me off to school with. Always the same: 1 or 2 small ripe nectarines, and a simple sandwich on toasted wheat bread with thin slices of a pale gold cheese, giant homegrown basil leaves, no condiments. I couldn’t have tore into the identical contents of those brown paper bags any more excitedly. No doubt it had a lot to do with that I’m in Germany thing, but there was something special about this combination, the tastes and aromas heightened from being kept in my warm backpack until break.
To this day the pairing of basil with nectarine, any stone fruit, is totally my jam, and one I riff on frequently during the summer. Living where we do, we have an easier time finding quality peaches (same went for former locales on the Gulf in FL and TX for whatever reason), so it’s the one I turn to most. Besides that, peaches are a little sweeter and more intensely flavored than their fuzz-free cousins, which makes them perfect for creating recipes with less sugar.
Back in the Midwest our supper table saw its fair share of ground beef: sloppy joes and tacos, meatloaf, Hamburger Helper. In the round, however, our exposure was limited to Grandma’s occasional porcupine meatballs — beef and rice balls cooked and served in a seasoned tomato sauce. I want to think the secret ingredient was love, but have a sneaking suspicion it was condensed tomato soup. Regardless, wonderful, and a fun little glimpse into my late 80s and early 90s upbringing.
Then, a ways down the road, palates slightly more mature, came the introduction to Totero’s. It was a veritable step out of southeastern Wisconsin and into southern Italy, with as few frills as possible, in the best way imaginable. Sadly shuttered in 2014 after 75 years, this priceless gem and its family’s infallible, no-nonsense red sauce and cue ball-sized meatballs live on in memory to inspire great recipes.
The holidays are only a short ways off, meaning it’s time to start thinking about gifts. At the very least, it’s time to start thinking of ideas for everyone on your list — stocking stuffers, party favors, hostess gifts, gifts for coworkers or maybe your child’s teacher.
Today I’m sharing a unique idea that you might assume is something best left to the experts, when in actuality is incredibly easy to make at home, with no special equipment other than a food processor.
Homemade basil-infused salt.