I had written about growing vegetables in the balcony. Well, we had many meals with the Chinese Bok Choy and Chinese cabbage. The Basil, Chillies and Tomato took much longer to grow. Much money was spent on this little kitchen garden. A Gardner was hired to tend to the plants, soil was bought, fertilizer added, a pruning shear or secateurs were bought, insecticide with a spray gun were needed. The plants were lovingly watered by HRH the Queen of Kutch, and when she was travelling, by her devoted agent, our part time maid.
Then, as time passed, the chillies matured and, thankfully, the Basil grew to be of pickable size. The Chillies were all hit and miss. Some were totally mild and, literally, green tasting. Others are hot enough to blow your head off.
The Basil is a real joy. We have made bottles and bottles of Pesto. The freshness of the Basil ensured that there were no bruised leaves resulting in a more vibrant coloured Pesto which retained colour. If you want to make a Pesto, which is really a brilliant sauce that enlivens many dishes, do follow the recipe I have given below. Do not be put off by the quantity of oil, you need it. The Pesto has a couple of expensive ingredients. Do make an effort to buy them, the taste is quite extraordinary and you will never eat the rubbish you get in so called Italian or `conti’ restaurants in Mumbai.
And then, one of the many tomatoes ripened. What joy. I have been tracking this one tomato since it was a small green tomato. Now it grew to be big and a lovely red colour. Ripened in the sun, I was looking forward to eating it. I was afraid to pick it, lest I do so before it was truly ripe. Then, one day, I grid my loins and plucked the tomato.
|When it was green
|Plucked and washed
I could of course tell you that the tomato was delicious and sweet. That, the Tomato was juicy and the juice ran down my lips, that the smell was gorgeous. I could tell you that the tomato was almost `organic’ except for the insecticide that was sometimes sprayed. But, that would be a lie and hopelessly romantic and almost spiritual bollocks. The one aspect that was different from market tomatoes was how firm the tomato was. It was a delight to slice and it was a pleasure to eat texture wise. It was not particularly better tasting, however the firmness was a pleasant and delightful surprise. We ate it with some homemade Pesto. Frankly, the Basil was far better than market bought, not quite the case with the Tomato.
|The Tomato with home made Pesto
There are at least 20 odd tomatoes still growing. I am looking forward to their ripening.
The Chinese Bok Choy and Chinese cabbage have now all been eaten. HRH the Queen of Kutch has now planted Brinjal, Runner Beans, assorted Chilli and Cherry Tomato. This should be fun to grow.
In balance, let me assure you that growing vegetables in your balcony is great fun and there is a certain indescribable feeling in eating the produce. By the same token it’s a financial folly on the same lines as Mallyas Kingfisher Airlines. We must have spent close to Rs. 4000 on the plants and counting. The yield is so small that it must be the most expensive vegetables you could eat. Your wife would bash you on the head with the `tava’ if you bought such expensive vegetables. But, I assure you it’s great fun. Do try it out, you get all the material and the seeds Palekar & Co at Crawford Market or Ratanshi Velji at Byculla.
Recipe for Pesto
25 to 30 of the best, unbruised medium sized Basil leaves
4 Garlic cloves peeled and halved
100 grams freshly grated Parmesan
150 ml Olive oil
30 grams toasted Pine Nuts. If you like you could use toasted walnuts but this will change flavour and give you a darker finished product
Salt and pepper to tasted
Place the Basil, garlic and Pine Nuts [Walnuts if using] into a blender [chutney attachment is great]. Process. Add the grated Parmesan and process further. Now add the oil in slowly. Once done the sauce should be smooth. Check for salt. Remember the Parmesan is quite salty so do not add salt till you have added all the oil.
Store in a clean glass jar in the fridge. You would get about enough to fill a jam jar. Should last about 10 days in the fridge.
Of course, mixed into freshly boiled Pasta. Or use it with any fried chicken or fish. You could use it in a sandwich. Add it to a tomato salad. Eat it with a delicious cheese omelette.
Just remember to not cook the Pesto.