Cherry Tomato Pesto

img_3685This long stretch of hot dry weather has left me with an embarrassment of cherry tomatoes. Though nothing’s quite as satisfying as a ripe tomato hot off the vine, I’ve discovered a pesto that freezes beautifully and keeps the cherry’s bright summery taste alive right into the winter months. The recipe (from Bon Appetit) calls for walnuts, anchovies, and basil (and luckily I have bushels of lemon basil on my hands right now, as well). I’ve also made it without the anchovies, adding extra salt to help balance the tastes.

I think this pesto is as rich and satisfying as a Bolognese sauce — a hearty and healthy meatless entrée. Buon appetito!


Servings: 4

  • ⅔ cup walnuts
  • 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons plus ⅓ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt
  • 6 oil-packed anchovies, coarsely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ ounces Parmesan, finely grated (about ½ cup), plus more for serving
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • ½ cup (packed) basil leaves


  • Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until slightly darkened, 8–10 minutes. Let cool.
  • Heat broiler. Toss tomatoes with 2 Tbsp. oil on a rimmed baking sheet; season with salt. Broil, tossing once, until tomatoes are blistered and have released some of their liquid, 5–7 minutes. Let cool.
  • Pulse anchovies, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and ½ oz. Parmesan in a food processor until finely ground. Add walnuts and half of tomatoes, then, with motor running, stream in ⅓ cup oil; process just until combined. Season with salt. Transfer pesto to a large bowl and stir in black pepper.
  • Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.
  • Transfer pasta to bowl with pesto and add a splash of pasta cooking liquid. Toss, adding more cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats pasta. Add basil and remaining tomatoes.
  • Divide among bowls; top with more Parmesan and black pepper and drizzle with oil.
  • Do Ahead: Pesto can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.  You can freeze it, too, for at least three months — and maybe more — but mine never lasts that long!


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Morning glories

IMG_0674Morning glories shoot up like something out of a fairy tale — Jack’s bean stalk or the roses that twined around Sleeping Beauty’s castle. One morning they’re a tiny cluster of heart-shaped leaves, the next they’re cresting over the garden gate — a wild tangle of blue trumpets and tightly twisted vines.

Once they get established in a place they like — they’re not picky about soil, but tend to like sun — they’ll come back year after year. Mine seem to be particularly happy growing up between the sturdy legs of the sunflowers that I plant on the edge of the vegetable garden. It’s a joy to watch them unfurl on a summer morning— a crowd of dapper blue umbrellas rising above the rowdy green.  Here’s a poem by Mary Oliver on the subject.

Morning Glories

Blue and dark-blue
rose and deepest rose
white and pink they

are everywhere in the diligent
cornfield rising and swaying
in their reliable

finery in the little
fling of their bodies their
gear and tackle

all caught up in the cornstalks.
The reaper’s story is the story
of endless work of

work careful and heavy but the
reaper cannot
separate them out there they

are in the story of his life
bright random useless
year after year

taken with the serious tons
weeds without value
humorous beautiful weeds.

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IMG_1385After a slow start, my nasturtiums are finally hitting their stride. I love these bright, happy flowers! They’re versatile, even-tempered, and ever-willing. Toss them into a salad — “no problem!” you can almost hear them say. Add them for color and drape to a window box or planter, surrounded by more hoity-toity annuals, and nasturtiums will find a way to fit right in.   Lately, I’ve been experimenting with pestos. Parsley, IMG_3530arugula, tomatoes have all gone under the Cuisinart knife. And wouldn’t you know it? The spicy nasturtium turns out to be the perfect foil for pine nuts, garlic, and parmesan. Fold it into a seafood risotto or spread it across a fresh baguette for the base of a wonderful sandwich or — what the heck, it’s summer! — just lick it right off the spoon. Continue reading

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IMG_3219The poppies are in bloom in what I call my sun garden. Though it’s actually more a haphazard collection of flora, thrown together on a stretch of land that’s half hill and part swamp. It’s a cutthroat kind of neighborhood for plants, and only the intrepid survive. But those that do — monkhead, monarda, shasta daises, blue lobelia, goose-neck loosestrife — tend to thrive. Like most toughs, they’re constantly angling for more territory, and I tend to just let them fight it out. Continue reading

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Putting in the seed

IMG_3166I spent most of the weekend on my hands and knees planting seeds in our vegetable garden. I’m a firm believer in the “square foot” gardening method developed by the late Mel Barthelme who advocated the use of raised beds and planting in tight rows inside 12 x 12 inch grids. Over the years, the grid has given way to a more relaxed and larger planting swath, but our eight raised beds — each about the size of a twin mattress — still yield enough lettuces, beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and cutting Continue reading

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IMG_0994Here come the ferns again! At this point they look like bunched, slightly hairy yellow knuckles punching their way out of the ground. Within the next week or two they’ll be a foot high, grouped in small green pods, facing inward, like close-knit families of aliens.

There is something otherworldly about them. They reproduce from spores and have neither seeds nor flowers. Their fiddleheads unfurl into fronds as they grow, delicate as butterfly wings. Despite their seeming fragility, ferns Continue reading

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Royal terns

IMG_3046We watched the royal terns on Captiva Island last week gather in a group on the beach, facing the sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. They clustered together in a loose V-shaped formation, alert and somewhat pensive. It was as if they were waiting for someone or something that was long past due. The thick black caps of royal terns grow patchy in the winter months,

Photo: Nicholas Atamas

Photo: Nicholas Atamas

making them look a little like grumpy old men with comb-overs that lift in the breeze. They eyed us suspiciously as we walked past, shifting from foot to foot, muttering amongst themselves. We’d seen them in groups like this before and remain puzzled by what they were up to — neither feeding nor breeding — but forced together like strangers on a train platform. Continue reading

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Darwin’s Finches

IMG_5300In another month or two, the families of birds who have kept us company through the long winter will disappear once again into the canopies of green. Black-capped chickadees, tufted titmice, red-breasted nuthatches, cardinals, blue jays, junkos, woodpeckers, and a variety of finches — these birds of winter are often the only signs of life in an otherwise frigid and monotone landscape. Chattering at the birdfeeders or swooping in long, graceful swags across the fields, they have brought movement, color, and song into the darkest months of the year. In the spring and Continue reading

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Winter Landscape

IMG_2927I thought of John Berryman’s poem about Pieter Bruegel’s painting ‘Hunters in the Snow’ as I walked through the winter wonderland this morning. Transforming the every-day, a snowfall makes you see the world more clearly — or in a new way — at least for a little while.

Bruegel’s paintings do the same thing, I think, which is probably why they’ve inspired so many poems over the years, including W. H. Continue reading

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Winter Morning

IMG_2554.JPGIt’s been an oddly snowless winter in the Berkshires this year. The storm that is barreling up the coast will bypass us for the most part. All remains quiet, the ground a patchwork of tired brown and white. But winter is a state of mind as much as anything, a season of inwardness and contemplation. And so I woke this morning, thinking of this poem by the prolific and versatile American poet William Jay Smith who died this past year at the age of 97. Continue reading

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Angel Slices — the most heavenly of Christmas cookies

IMG_2812When I left home after college, my mother gave me two books which I think she believed would fully equip me for life on my own: The Holy Bible and Irma Rombauer’s original edition of The Joy of Cooking. In those days I wasn’t much of a cook — and even less of a baker. So I was lucky to stumble upon a particular recipe at the very start of my baking career. It was in The Joy of Cooking for a bar cookie called Angel Slices. Continue reading

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Paris — a love story

IMG_4276Along with so many others, I’ve been in love with Paris for as long as I can remember. I lived with Madeline “in an old house in Paris that was covered in vines” and I was there with Gigi “the night they invented champagne.” Victor Hugo, Colette, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald, they all added to the grand city that began to take hold in my imagination. A place of glowing interiors — Degas’ ballet studios and Vuillard’s wall-papered living rooms — and sweeping grandeur — Seurat’s public parks and Pissaro’s wide boulevards. I danced with Gene Kelly and turned a tearful face away from Bogart at the Gare de Lyon. A little later, I found myself torn between Jules and Jim. Continue reading

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Hard frost

IMG_2720The temperature dipped into the twenties in the Berkshires the other night, and we woke to a world glazed in white. Though beautiful from the window, up  close you could see the devastation wreaked on anything still growing: shriveled stalks and drooping heads. Each hard frost is like a stroke — a shock to nature’s cellular system — and this one seemed to be the final blow.

The crystalline skies the night before actually served as something of a frost warning. Without a blanket of cloud cover, Continue reading

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The end of summer

IMG_2617It still feels summery in the Berkshires, though there are signs of change everywhere. Most of the butterflies and many of the birds have already started their long journeys south. A family of strident blue jays has taken up residence in the willow which the hummingbirds leased during the summer. As dawn was breaking this morning, I heard the plaintive call of the barred owl in the woods: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”  But, for the most part, the mornings are much quieter now, except for the refrigerator-like hum of crickets and cicadas. Continue reading

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