Grilling on Fourth of July? Try lemon balm pesto.

The Fourth of July is a big day for grilling in the US–although just about any summertime evening when it isn’t storming makes a pretty compelling candidate. I love grilling foods, from meats, fish, and shellfish to vegetables and fruits. More than that, I like to create my own marinades and sauces with the herbs I grow. If you’re looking for something fresh, summery, and different that’s also extremely easy to make, give my lemon balm pesto a try.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb in the mint family. Its small white flowers attract bees and other pollinators, but you’ll be drawn by the lemony scent of the foliage as you brush it with your fingers. It is reputed to be effective as a mosquito repellant when the leaves are rubbed on the skin. But more than all of that, you’ll like the bright lemon flavoring the leaves lend to salads, drinks, and marinades. It has endless uses in the kitchen.

Lemon balm grows easily to 3 feet tall in sun or shade. It spreads like its mint relatives, so grow it in a container of well-draining potting soil mixed with compost. It does not require fertilizing, and is quite stoic in drought but delights in regular rain. One plant should be plenty for you, unless you run a busy restaurant or keep bees. In those cases, two plants should suffice.

MissingHenryMitchell’s Lemon Balm Pesto

  • 3 cups lemon balm leaves, washed
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • Coarse salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice or lemon zest

Put the first three ingredients and a pinch of salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Start the blender, and drizzle olive oil into the mix until the mixture is the texture you like.  If you want your pesto extra-lemony, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or lemon zest. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Spread on chicken, fish, or shrimp before putting the food on the grill, or allow foods to marinate in the pesto in the refrigerator overnight. For overnight marinating or for brushing on food on the grill, a thinner mixture works well. I like a thicker paste as a garnish on finished dishes. It also tastes great as a salad dressing when tossed with greens, olives, peppers, and a bit of goat cheese, or as a spread on crusty bread.

The pesto may be kept in the refrigerator for a week, or may be frozen for later use. The pesto may slightly discolor as it freezes, but it will taste just fine.

Hope you enjoy your holiday grilling!

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Preserving summer: Crock pot cherry tomato sauce

In the community garden where I work, yellow pear tomatoes grow abundantly. They don’t seem to be terribly popular, though, with many people besides me.

I adore them. The plants produce abundant fruit that ripens quickly. The delights of popping them straight into the mouth from the vine are well known and do not need to be recounted here. And it’s far less devastating to find one infested cherry tomato in a cluster of otherwise-fine fruit than it is to anticipate harvesting that one big slicing tomato you’ve been nursing along, only to find that on the back side of the fruit there’s a huge, oozing hole edged with gray-green fur.

yellow pear tomatoes

I came home last week with two healthy pints of fruit, to add to the remainder of the two quarts I had from last week which we haven’t finished yet. The tomatoes will never be as good as they are right now–unless, perhaps, they’ll save in a sauce?

I’ve never tried making a sauce with cherry tomatoes. Time for an experiment.

I should note that I have no experience in canning. That’s a project for another season, after much study on food safety. But freezing is the one technique of food preservation in which I feel competent, and I have a big freezer.

Recipe: Crock pot cherry tomato sauce

This recipe is easiest in a crock pot or slow cooker, but I’m also providing regular-oven instructions.

In a medium saucepan, I warmed about three tablespoons of olive oil. To that, I added three tablespoons of chopped organic garlic from a jar. I love garlic. Next year, it will be my home-grown garlic, but we all must start someplace. If you don’t like garlic as much as I do, just add a little less.

step 1: olive oil and garlic

I washed and capped the tomatoes, and sliced them in half. I didn’t bother to peel them (can you imagine?). I then added the tomatoes to the pan, covered it, and left it in a warm oven (250-275 F, 121-135 C) for two hours to slowly melt together.

In a slow cooker: add all ingredients to the crock, cover, and cook on high for one hour or low for two. Maybe keep an eye on the moisture level if you cook on high, as cooking time and temperature can vary depending on your individual slow cooker. You’ll know when it’s done when everything has turned into a delicious pulpy mush:

fresh basil slivered into sauce

For the final 30 minutes, I snipped in a tablespoon’s worth of the last fresh basil leaves I’ll see this year, and stirred in a pinch of coarse salt.

final reduced tomato sauce

This sauce is glorious, and utterly simple. When it cooled, I poured it into a small, clean glass jar and froze it. I hope it tastes just as good in January!