Michaela Muntean, the seller of this pastoral Shelter Island farmhouse, sent me pages from her gardener's diary below, as well as a fabulous pesto recipe.
Details on this listing are at: www.45BurnsRoad.com
March 2015—Dreaming of Spring on 45 Burns Road
Let the countdown begin…
…Only a few days from now I will take a quiet stroll down Burns Road, toward Coecles Harbor, where I will spot my first osprey of the season. It will be a male, of course—they set off from South America to make the 3,000-mile flight north about a week before the females. He will swoop in to see how their nest along the causeway to Little Ram Island has weathered the winter. Perhaps he will make some repairs before the missus arrives. After a few days, he will begin to scan the skies, searching for her and making his distinctive kew-kew-kew cry. For me, that is first true sign of spring.
|Burns Road to Coecles Harbor, Shelter Island|
By the time the females arrive, we should be past the chance of frost, so I will lift the burlap from the herb garden and see which plants have made it. The gardens at 45 Burns are long established, and their rich soil gives our plants deep and nuanced flavor. It is the same soil the Walther family depended on for farming in the 1920s and ‘30s; the same soil the Margiottas relied on to grow vegetables for the restaurant they ran on this property from 1947 to 1961. For the past 30 years, I’m the one who’s tended that soil. It’s a job I look forward to; a job I love.
|Shelter Island Osprey|
Our rosemary will survive a mild winter, but harsh winters are hard on all herbs. Thyme will oftentimes pull through, as will chives and parsley. Sage will usually return; mint always will. It’s always welcome, too, for it will be used throughout the spring and summer, snipped fresh from the garden, to add to tall glasses of ice tea, which we will sip while sitting on the patio.
|The patio under wisteria vines|
In truth, I’m not much of a gardener. When I first moved to Shelter Island from Manhattan, my goal was to have an herb garden. I love to cook and imagined myself with a basket on my arm, picking fresh herbs to add to recipes. Our kitchen is a true country kitchen with its own breakfast nook that looks out onto a canopy of lindens and maples in the front yard. It also has an L-shaped bookshelf above the kitchen table made especially for cookbooks, which range from various Shelter Island Church recipe collections to Yotam Ootolenghi’s latest. Everything is designed to be within easy reach, including the cabinet where I store the herbs I’ve picked and dried from last year’s garden.
My stalwarts are rosemary, parsley, chives, thyme and sage. But my favorite of all is basil. I plant at least eight seedlings every May, pinching back leaves and tending to them so that by August I have basil bushes—plenty to scatter over tomatoes and mozzarella; plenty to make into pesto, for by mid-September my kitchen will become a pesto factory.
Check out my pesto recipe below...
Check out my pesto recipe below...
I make it from a recipe in a 1960’s Italian cookbook, found at a Shelter Island yard sale many years ago. It is truly the best pesto recipe, for it combines basil and parsley and freezes brilliantly. Throughout the winter months, I will take a container from the freezer and let it thaw. As I open it, I think back to the summer before, the heady smell of basil still there, ready to use with pasta or spread on crackers.
A true gardener would now be getting flats ready to sow seeds inside—early peas, lettuce, all kinds of things. But I’ve given up growing all of them years ago. I have a section of my garden reserved for rhubarb and strawberries—two reliable perennials that produce enough for several strawberry-rhubarb pies every June. I have my herb beds, and the rest of the garden is devoted to tomatoes.
Oh, I used to plant other things, but in the end, I never seemed to get it right. Take zucchini, for example, a truly crazy plant. I never seemed to be able to corral it. The same is true for melons. My carrots were always woody, my potatoes mealy. Let others who know what they’re doing grow them, I thought, and I will buy from them. Occasionally I will try planting something new, lured by a luscious photo on a seed packet. I’ll toss them into a spare section of the garden, wish them luck, and see what happens. I save all my gardening energy for basil and tomatoes. Along with pesto, I fill my freezer with tomato sauce (I swear by Julia Child’s recipe, from Volume I of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.)
|Wisteria outside 45 Burns Rd|
In six weeks I’ll get out the seeds harvested from last year’s crops and gently nestle them into flats of growing medium. I have a grow light and I mist them daily, eagerly watching for the tiny green sprouts to emerge. As the days grow warmer, I’ll put the flats outside for a few hours every day. By the end of May, the young seedlings are strong enough to plant in the garden.
One of my annual rituals is to invite a few friends to garden with me. In trade for helping me plant, I give them each a selection of seedlings. (I always plant plenty of extras with them in mind.) I also serve them lunch and every year it is the same—for I save the last container of pesto in the freezer for them, and they know it. I take it out the day before so it can thaw, then spread it on focaccia. I make chilled spring pea soup, topped with chives from my garden and asparagus with vinaigrette, sprinkled with chopped parsley. The peas and asparagus are from someone else’s garden, but the chives and parsley, of course, are from mine.
I will set everything out, buffet-style on the bar, put on some music, and open the stained-glass doors that lead from the dining room to the patio. My friends and I will take our plates outside and sit around the table to savor the fresh flavors of spring and the pleasure of each other’s company.
So come on ospreys, and warm soil and sunshine…I’m ready for you.
45 Burns Rd Pesto
by Michaela Muntean
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh Italian or curly parsley
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup grated Romano cheese
1 Tablespoon pine nuts
12 blanched almonds
12 blanched walnut halves
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 Tablespoons butter
½ cup olive oil
Put all ingredients in food processor and blend.
A few tips I’ve learned through years of making this sauce:
I have never blanched the nuts. I don’t mind a little nut skin, nor do I think it detracts from the sauce. Also, I have never counted out “12” almonds and walnuts. I just toss in a small handful of each.
Never use freshly-grated Parmesan or Romano. It makes the sauce too gooey. Just buy the cheapest Parm/Rom grated blend from the grocery store.
I use two or three garlic cloves, depending on their size – I prefer pesto a bit garlicky.
Some people blend pesto until it’s a smooth paste. It’s a matter of taste of course, but I like a chunkier pesto, so I’m careful about how much I pulverize it. I like nubbly bits of nuts and garlic in it.
NEVER heat pesto. It destroys it. To warm it before adding to pasta (and also to thin it a bit, which it sometimes needs), add several tablespoons of hot pasta water and stir.
I loosely chop the basil leaves and parsley and then “layer” them in the food processor, putting leaves, then some liquid, nuts, more leaves, etc. I also cut the butter into chunks before adding it.
Pesto freezes great, but you have to remember to take it out with enough time to thaw since you can’t heat it. I use it not only on pasta but also as a spread on crackers, and a tablespoon or so adds a good kick to soups and stews. (I always make one batch and freeze it in a plastic ice cube tray so I can just pop out little cubes of it. I store the tray inside a zip-lock freezer bag). I freeze larger batches for pasta in plastic containers or in freezer bags.