This book has been on my shelf for a couple of years and, mostly, I’ve not been able to use it as much as I’d like because, well, I don’t have a garden. But, aha, this year the terrace has been properly planted and looked after (not being away for most of July and August has helped) and, suddenly, though definitely no gardener yet, I have herbs…
In principle, Gifts from the Garden is about how you can use your garden to make ‘gorgeous homemade presents’ but it’s much more than that. It’s full of really straightforward recipes, that, yes, can be used as gifts for others but also can be used as ‘gifts’ for yourself. It teaches you, amongst other things, how to make flavoured salts, caraway flatbreads, chilli vodka and, aha, I may need this one soon, green tomato chutney; it’s one of those books that is structured around solid basic principles so, once you have grasped the idea you can start to tweak, depending on what you have.
Debora (who, I must declare an interest, is a friend) is possibly the most creatively constructive cook and gardener I know and this book is evidence of that. What I particularly love about her way of cooking is that, although many a cookbook relies on a stylist to make a recipe look gorgeous, a look that is rarely achievable at home, and effortless, Debora’s recipes are always both. She makes everything simple and beautiful, without using lots of complicated ingredients or equipment and her ability to adapt to what’s available, whether dictated by the season or the location is something I aspire to.
Which is why I particularly love this chive pesto. Classic basil pesto is a delight but I find basil incredibly difficult to grow whereas chives seem to flourish in my windswept bit of London. I have two plants and, however inexpertly I hack at them, they come back for more. This is a perfect way to preserve their flavour for the drear of winter (though my chives survived last year’s) and it’s also incredibly versatile. It’s perfect on pasta and gnocchi, of course, but try it spread on toast or flatbreads as a snack, or stirred into a vegetable soup. Debora also recommends it as a dressing for new potatoes.
The recipe specifies pine nuts, but I’ve made it with flaked almonds because pine nuts are SO expensive and, over the summer, an experimental almond-basil pesto was just as lovely as the traditional version. Now I know what all that watering was for…
Makes enough for 2 with pasta
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil, 4-6 tbsp
salt and pepper
pine nuts or flaked almonds, 40g
fresh chives, 50g
1. Toast the nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until just coloured and golden. Leave to cool.
2. Whilst the nuts are cooling, peel and finely chop/crush the garlic clove, chop the chives, grate the Parmesan and zest the lemon.
3. Bash the cooled nuts in a pestle and mortar, or whizz them a couple of times in a food processor then mix with the garlic, chives, Parmesan and lemon zest.
4. Add the oil little by little, until you have the thickness you like, then season to taste. You may want to add more cheese or lemon zest, as well as salt and pepper.
5. If you’re not using it straightaway, spoon into a cold, sterilised jar, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of oil and seal then store in the fridge; it should keep for 2-3 days.