One thing I love about Italian food is the bang you get for your buck. It’s one of the more versatile cuisines, and fits beautifully within any budget or schedule. This past weekend, my boyfriend Tom and I traveled to Boston’s North End (for lunch at Saus, my new favorite restaurants in town) and visited the Open Market shortly after. Aside from the standard deluge of veggies and fruits, we came across these huge bouquets of BASIL. Without thinking twice we bought two bundles, along with some tomatoes, asparagus, and red bell peppers. Our basil overload led to a platter of Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta and a to-die for Basil-Walnut Pesto that we tossed with pan-roasted chicken thighs and asparagus…it was so freakin good that I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
Pesto is originally from Genoa (a region located in Northern Italy), and comes from the Genoese term pestâ – “to crush or pound.” A traditional pesto contains pine nuts, garlic, basil, Parmesan, and olive oil that is “crushed” to a paste in a mortar and pestle (a word whose derivative is the Latin equivalent of pestâ). We opted for walnuts in ours, along with shaved Parmesan Reggiano. It honestly doesn’t really matter what ingredients you choose for a pesto, so long as they are complementary of one another and not totally wacky (but hey, no one’s gonna judge if you decide to make a pesto out of chocolate chips and parsley…but they probably won’t eat it). This pesto, on the other hand, will definitely be a winner at your next dinner party – click HERE to see the recipe!
Bruschetta is one of my favorite appetizers – it’s simple, elegant, and (like pesto) fairly customizable. We roasted a bell pepper over an open flame (do this with caution, of course) and topped each slice of bread with a healthy dollop of basil, veggies, and mozzarella. The metal pan gave each piece a toasty finish, and every bite was packed with flavor. This can be a hit for vegans (great with pine nuts) or carnivores (chicken would be killer!) Whatever your speed, this is a great appetizer or side, and basil is hands-down the herb to go with: click HERE to see the recipe!
Both of these dishes, as aforementioned, can easily be tailored to the preferences and vision of the chef. Room for creativity is a beautiful thing in cooking – as you gain experience, a recipe becomes more of a suggestive tool that can applied to your own ideas. There is definite symmetry between this concept and performance. When a musician first encounters a piece, they go through the motions of learning the notes and becoming comfortable with the overall work. Once it’s “under their fingers”, interpretation steps in – the moment for the musician’s voice to really shine. Perhaps one of the greatest voices in the history of classical music is that of Fritz Kreisler. Both a violinist and a composer, he was an extension of an era where virtuosic musicians were putting their voice into performance AND writing. The art of musical interpretation is thus beautifully ensured through each of his compositions’ intimate understanding of the instrument. Today, violinists are able to quite literally pour their soul into writing that fits the violin “like a glove”. I find Kreisler’s Recitative and Scherzo for solo violin to be especially apropos – written in 1910, Kreisler dedicated this short work to his colleague violinist Eugene Ysaÿe (yet another performer who also composed). The below recording is with Jascha Heifetz – at the age of 11, Heifetz performed before Kreisler for the first time. Kreisler turned to the others in the room and exclaimed “We might as well take our fiddles and smash them across our knees.” After listening to the video below, you’ll understand what he meant – enjoy!
Maltese, John Anthony. “Jascha Heifetz: Violinist Nonpareil,” Jascha Heifetz: The Official Website
Strauss, Axel. “Violin Music: Fritz Kreisler’s Recitativo and Scherzo, Op. 6,” All Things Strings
“PHOTO: Fritz Kreisler,” Wikipedia.com