I climbed on a kitchen chair tonight and did a happy dance. My 14-year-old had eaten his dinner.

My big boy hates food. Sure, he inhales bagels and cream cheese, Cheerios and Cheez-Its, and burgers if they come from McDonalds. But whole grains and well-balanced meals? Not so much. His idea of fruit is Mott’s natural applesauce; a vegetable is the sauce atop a pizza.

Imagine my surprise, then, when he polished off an entire bowl of pasta and pesto! In my house — at least for tonight — basil is a vegetable.

Actually, it’s an herb that’s awfully good for you. It’s high in beta-carotine and vitamins A and K. It’s a great source of iron. And it’s rich in essential oils that fight inflammation and bacteria.

That’s good to know now that our garden is brimming with basil. And now that I know the big boy will eat pesto!

Pesto is one of the fastest, simplest concoctions you can make, and you can use it in myriad ways. Tonight, we thinned it with pasta water to make a sauce, then tossed it with the thick, ridged, corkscrew noodles called cavatelli. But we could have mixed it with cream cheese for a vegetable dip; slathered it on raw chicken, beef or fish as a marinade; or stirred it into risotto for a fresh, herbal hit. We could even have nixed the pine nuts and drizzled the resulting “basil oil” on fresh cantaloupe and mozzarella slices.

I may try all those dishes and see if basil continues to lure my son. Heck, if eating pasta and pesto made me dance on a kitchen chair, who knows what I’ll do if the child eats chicken!


I never measure ingredients when I make this. So much depends on the type of basil you’re using and your individual taste preferences. I like my pesto to be redolent of basil but to have strong undertones of lemon and umami (that savory, meaty flavor that fills the back of the throat and gives your mouth a full feeling).

Tonight, I picked about 4 cups of basil leaves, washed them, and spun them dry. I finely chopped 2 garlic cloves in a food processor; then added the basil leaves, about 1/2 cup pine nuts (buy these in bulk and keep them in your freezer), the juice of 1 lemon, salt and pepper. I chopped everything up, then poured olive oil through the processor’s feed tube until the mixture began to slosh around. (“Slosh” is the appropriate term … you can hear exactly when your pesto turns from chopped herbs to pourable sauce.)

After that, I tasted. It was a little too flat, so I added 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (the umami thing). A little more lemon juice and salt. Then 2-3 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan cheese.

I spooned the pesto onto the hot pasta and added about 1/4 cup of the pasta water so the sauce coated every noodle. It was so good that even a picky eater gobbled it up.