My mother went to Reno for a few days, leaving me in the house with our three cats, so I had three days to observe how I cooked for myself while she was gone. When I lived alone I developed a fondness for one-bowl cooking, complete meals that fit in a single bowl. Friday morning I made one of my favorite summer breakfasts, polenta cooked in milk, seasoned with vanilla extract and stirred into a bowl of diced peaches. It was so good that I made it again on Saturday — in fact, it is what I eat for breakfast any time we have fresh peaches in the house, usually from late May through early October.
The secret to this recipe is a fresh, tree-ripened peach. I buy most of my peaches from Frog Hollow Farm at the Berkeley Farmers’ Market. In formerly flush years I would buy them by the flat and we would eat peach waffles, peach bread pudding, peach cobbler. I would freeze peach puree to make waffles in the winter or spring. Now I buy them a few at a time: I bought four last Saturday, two Cal Reds and two O’Henry’s, enough for four breakfasts.
The other secret is cooking polenta in milk, which makes it lovely and creamy. I began cooking grains in milk when I broke my first bone five years ago, started cooking oatmeal in a cup of milk to make sure I would get daily calcium in the food I ate.
To make this dish, go out and pick a peach from your tree or buy a soft, sweet peach from your farmers’ market. Slice it and then chop the slices into smaller chunks. Put this into your cereal bowl. Then film the bottom of a saucepan with a little water, add a cup of milk, a dash of salt and a quarter-cup of polenta. Cook over medium high heat until it starts to bubble, then reduce heat to a simmer until it thickens enough to your liking. It’s a good idea to stir it frequently so that it won’t stick to the pan. When it’s done, remove it from the heat and stir in a capful of vanilla extract. Pour it over your peaches in your bowl, stir and dig in. The polenta warms the peaches. The juice from the peach sweetens the polenta. The yellows and oranges look like summer in a bowl.
At lunch-time on Friday, I looked at the cilantro that I had bought a week before and stuck in a glass on the counter — I needed to use it. Cutting off the stems, I broke each leaf from its stem and tossed it into my blender. I went out and picked a Meyer lemon from the front yard, cut it, and squeezed it into the cilantro. I diced a red onion and minced half a clove of garlic. I added some chopped walnuts from our freezer (new crop has not come in yet). I moistened the mixture with some olive oil and started blending it while I got out some rinds of Parmesan, which I grated with my microplane. You can get a microplane, otherwise known as a rasp, at any hardware store — don’t bother with expensive versions from cooking stores: it is the best tool I know for grating hard cheeses and zesting citrus. I gave the blender a stir and added the cheese and a tiny pinch of salt.
Pesto done, I put on some water to boil and got down a package of whole wheat penne, taking out about a quarter pound (four ounces). While the water heated, I topped and tailed a large handful of fresh green beans and snapped them in half. I cooked the pasta for seven minutes or so, then added the green beans to the pasta water, cooking them for one minute more. I drained the pasta, scooped some cilantro pesto into a pasta bowl and stirred like mad to distribute it. It made a little more than I could eat — measurement is not my forte when I am not following a recipe — so I had a small serving leftover for Saturday’s lunch, which I ate cold — equally delicious. The lemon and onion in the pesto and the bitterness of the walnuts play off the sweetness of the green beans and whole wheat.
For dinner, I ate leftover Greek salad on Thursday and made a sandwich of leftover roasted pork loin with leftover apple coleslaw on Friday
Whole Wheat Pasta with Cilantro Pesto:
Combine in jar of blender for pesto
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed.
1 lemon or lime, zested, than juiced or squeezed
1 small red onion
1/2 clove garlic
2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil to moisten
Salt to taste
3 to 4 oz whole wheat pasta per person.
1 large handful of fresh green beans, trimmed and cut in half.
Blend pesto. Cook pasta until almost done: about a minute out, add green beans to pasta water. Drain pasta and beans into a pasta bowl. Add some pesto and stir or toss to mix. If you have leftover pesto, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week, or you can freeze it.
When Mom got back Saturday afternoon she asked if there was any cooked food on hand. Nope. I told her I had eaten all of the leftovers. We ate bread, cheese, grapes (me) and tomatoes (her).
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