For me, The Silver Palate Cookbook, is my most treasured and "go - to" book of recipes. Published in 1980s, I think pretty much every cook would admit that before Julee Rosso or Sheila Lukins penned their masterpiece, few home cooks had heard of balsamic vinegar or extra-virgin olive oil.
I had the enormous pleasure of knowing them both. When I first arrived in NYC in the mid 70s, Julee was my best friend and roommate Marilyn's boss - a few years before Julee and Sheila started their business. Julee was a role model for us. She took us once to La Grenouille, the historic French restaurant, and it was a magical experience and partly because she embraced everything. We idolized her. When she founded her little store on the Upper West Side, I was dating my future husband Doug and he lived just around the corner from the tiny shop. We'd pop in often picking up what are now staples in my cooking repertoire: their curried butternut-squash soup, spinach quiche, arugula salad, chocolate hazelnut cake, and their extraordinary chicken marbella, with olives, capers and an entire head of garlic. They always had a basket of cookies on the counter, which Doug still considers the best dessert.
Before The Silver Palate, ambitious home cooks in America were pretty much devotees of Julia Child - obsessed with French technique and butter, or with vegetarianism and bean sprouts. The Silver Palate opened up a new world of cooking that was culturally diverse, passionate about freshness, and committed to pleasure.“Our own American style,” as Lukins and Rosso described their food.
And boy did those girls love their basil. I can't smell it now without thinking of them both and that amazing little store. And since then each summer I have grown basil, from seed, in abundance. Sometime in later August I would harvest it to make The Silver Palate pesto. For years I jarred it. Then I started freezing smaller containers to make it last through the winter. Now, here in Savannah I planted my seeds in April when the evenings were warm. And today I harvested the largest crop of basil I have every grown. And it's only July 4th.
I cut, washed and dried mounds of basil.
Into my trusty food processor I began making my Silver Palate pesto, which I now know by memory.
Combining the basil, garlic, Romano cheese, and walnuts (I don't use pine nuts, I like the nuttier flavor of walnuts) in the bowl of the processor I leave the motor running and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Then I scrape it out into my small freezer containers. I put 25 (!) containers in my freezer. One is in my refrigerator. One made it's way to my friend who hosted our July 4th Picnic.
It's only July 4th. In a few weeks, I'm going to turn the soil in my "basil pot" and reseed it all. I'm thinking this climate will net me 2 rounds. Imagine all the happy recipients over the months ahead.
Here's to you Julee and Sheila. Thank you.