Spices once sparked wars, paved trade routes, built fortunes. Even now, a whiff through the perforated plastic lid evokes distant lands, terrible plunder, sacks of gold.
Which might explain the spice-rack back bench. What modern kitchen lacks an ancient tin of paprika, aged nub of nutmeg or dust-crusted container of cumin? Few. The herb and spice stash — though faded to flavorless — serves up respect.
And commands restraint — even after resupply. Like the picture frame or flower girl, the herb sprinkle is tasked with enhancing — not upstaging — the main event.
So when a dish flouts the rules, it’s a thrill.
Consider pesto salad. Not salad garnished with a sprig of basil, thyme or parsley. But salad compiled from basil, thyme and parsley. Nothing but the good stuff, in abundance.
The approach might strike the cook as lavish, indulgent, wanton. Leaving a lot to relish.
Prep: 25 minutes. Makes about 6 cups.
¼ cup pine nuts
1 small clove garlic, degermed
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 ripe tomato, diced into ½-inch cubes
1 roasted red pepper, sliced into ½-inch squares
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
2 cups fresh baby arugula, lightly packed
1 cup fresh parsley leaves, lightly packed
1 mini cucumber, sliced into rounds
1 block Parmesan cheese, about ½ ounce
1. Toast: Scatter pine nuts into a medium skillet. Set over medium heat. Toast, shaking pan occasionally, until nuts turn golden brown, about 7 minutes.
2. Mash: Drop garlic, salt and pepper into a mortar. Mash to a paste with the pestle. Scrape paste into a large salad bowl. Whisk in oil, lemon juice and zest. Slide in tomatoes, roasted red peppers and thyme leaves. Toss. Let rest at room temperature, at least 15 minutes (or up to 2 hours).
3. Toss: When ready to serve, drop in basil, arugula and parsley. Toss until greens are glossy with dressing. Slide in cucumbers. Carve on a few curls of Parmesan. Scatter on pine nuts. Toss again.
4. Serve: Nice for lunch with grilled bread, or at dinner as a side dish to grilled steak, fish or chicken.