Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Linguini with Tomatoes and Benny


Although until today I had never experienced it myself, I have always believed firmly in love at first sight. It is one of those things that’s nice to believe in, even if the odds of it actually happening to you are something akin to the odds of George Clooney showing up on your doorstep one Saturday evening with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Grand Dame and a box of Michael Recchiuti caramels and inviting himself inside and telling you that you look absolutely ravishing in your ratty pink Gap sweat pants and how providential it is that you are watching Bridget Jones' Diary, as that is his favorite movie. Far-fetched, maybe. But it could happen, and so can love at first sight. I believe. So when I laid eyes upon Benny today in Trader Joe’s, I knew that the fat lady of improbable fate had finally sung the swan song of my solitary existence. Or something like that.

I spotted him through the thick, purposeful midday Trader Joe’s crowds, perched serenely next to the watermelons as harried stay-at-home moms and cube farm warriors on their exactly-one-hour-long lunch sabbatical and rumpled messy-haired writers/lieabouts such as myself cruised the store grasping for tubs of spicy hummus, bags of cheap organic arugula, and, at least in my case, several bars of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate, my favorite Saturday evening movie snack. Okay, my favorite everyday any-occasion snack.

In one crushing instant, I knew Benny and I were meant to be for two reasons: 1)because I felt a frisson of instant and forceful attraction jolt my very bones, and, 2)because the prepackaged basil wasn’t looking so hot today.

I approached him on a cloud. Oh, his scent! Fresh, strong, herbaceous. I closed my eyes and pretended I could wrap myself in it. Everything about him was perfect. His regal bearing. His smooth, bright green leaves. He was everything I’ve ever wanted in a basil plant.

But I’m frightened of this new love. You see, I have the blackest of black thumbs. I know this may be difficult to believe, but I once managed to kill a mint plant. Nobody believes me, because it’s the general consensus among those who possess even a marginal grasp of Gardening 101 that you cannot possibly kill mint. That when we finally do have World War III and our once beautiful planet is reduced to a lifeless, steaming pile of radioactive rubble, the first resurgence of life will in fact be…a tiny mint sprout. How does the Beatitude go? The mint shall inherit the earth? Something like that anyway, I don’t remember exactly, most of my youth's considerable church time was spent surreptitiously writing skits about lucky children who ran wild and free on Sunday mornings and had never known the agony of hymn books and too-small shiny black patent leather Mary Janes.

Basil, like mint, is quite hardy, but the power of my black thumb is strong, and I know not how to temper it. More water? More sun? Less water? Less sun? No water? Mineral water? Vitamin water? Tonic water? I’ll not be coy, I would give Benny anything to ensure that I feel this way forever. I will water Benny with Dry Soda if that is what he wants. Lavender, Lemongrass or Kumquat, my dear? Only the best for my beloved. I will sprinkle his soil with crushed Scharffen Berger chocolate shards. When we go to lunch at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, I will let him have the seat facing the door, I need it no longer to scope for pain au chocolat and jambon sandwich-loving hotties. If it’s Friday afternoon (Red Velvet day!), and there is but one Red Velvet dot left on the tray at Saint Cupcake, I will relinquish it gladly to Benny. Now that is love.

Most soul mates do not come with readymade instructions and a bio, but Benny did. They are written on a white tag and stuck in his pot. Thus, unlike with previous love interests, I don't have to guess, cajole, pry, or liquor him up to find out what makes him tick--I already know. He loves sun. He prefers to be 12-15 inches from other basil plants at all times. Not a problem, I've assured him we're exclusive and there are no other basil plants in my life. He'll likely not grow taller than 18-24 inches, but he's promised he'll not ask me to forgo wearing heels. He likes moist soil and regular fertilizer, nothing a glass of wine and the occasional sprinkling of Scharffen Berger chocolate crumbs can't take care of. He grows easily in a container or window box, which is wonderful, since I'm a city girl and can't offer him a garden. He's an excellent flavor enhancer to tomato dishes, with soft cheeses, sauces, pesto and fowl dishes. What more could a girl ask for?

To celebrate this happy development in my life, I decided to make my favorite pasta dish--Linguini with Tomatoes and Benny. So now that I have shared my new objet d'affection with you, I would like to share this recipe too. I love it almost as much as Benny my new basil plant.

Serves 1, increase accordingly if George Clooney will be joining you for dinner

3 oz linguini
1 tablespoon olive oil for pan, + 1 tablespoon to drizzle over cooked pasta
2 cloves chopped garlic
3/4 cup tiny cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons Benny chiffonade (roll up leaves and slice thinly)
2 tablespoons grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano

Boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, and heat 1 tablespoon oil in saucepan over medium high heat, then add chopped garlic and let sizzle for 15-30 seconds.

Return pasta to pot and shake it about it to coat with oil and garlic. Add tomatoes, Benny, and Parmeggiano-Reggiano and other tablespoon of oil, swirl a few times, then turn off the heat.

Toss a bit more until cheese is melted and coats the pasta, then plate it. Sprinkle more cheese over if you like.

And now, if you'll excuse me, Benny and I are going for a long walk in Washington Park, and then I am going to pour a couple glasses of Pinot Grigio and make him into, I mean, make him my favorite Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, and Benny bruschetta.

1 comment:

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