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Escape the sad cold world with a winter dip and perfect pesto

In the depths of winter, the urge to curl up with a book, a glass of red wine and a tasty snack is always there, but our need to escape the world and to feed the soul is now even more present with yet another COVID lockdown in Melbourne, the stupidly vague Sydney stay at home plan and no leadership from our leaders. Our children are increasingly vulnerable working in hospitality every day without access to a vaccine and our plan to visit them for Raf's birthday has been cancelled.

Endless scrolling through angry, frustrated Twitter feeds is not good for the psyche, nor is looking at the virus trend data in Italy or the glorious Salento summer beach posts on Instagram. Outside, the sheets of grey dreary rain reflect the national mood.

Basta! Enough!

Two avocados sit in the fruit bowl, frozen peas are in the freezer, lemons are on the tree and mint is in the garden. It's time to make a yummy green vegan dip. I first made this quite a few years ago for my nephew's mid-winter birthday at my sister's house in Melbourne. It seems appropriate, considering.

On the balcony, the last of our basil crop is looking pale and drippy so I pick it all and dig up my slow food recipe book for the Genovese Pesto recipe which we eat for lunch with fussili. There is nothing like the taste of summer to warm the heart and the bones. Here are recipes for both of these green delights.

Avocado and Pea Dip

2 Avocados

1/2 cup of frozen peas

2 tablespoons of Tahini

1 lemon

1 garlic clove

1 teaspoon of honey

1/2 teaspoon of toasted cumin seeds

1 small bunch of mint

Toasted pine nuts

Smash up the avocados into a bowl.

Pour boiling water over the peas to defrost them.

Crush the garlic and add to the mixture.

Add the honey.

Squeeze in the juice of one lemon and two tablespoons of Tahini.

Finely chop the mint, toast the cumin seeds and add these to the mixture.

Blend everything together to a smooth dip.

Lightly toast the pine nuts and sprinkle these on the top.

Serve with toasted pita bread, raw vegetables or biscuits.

It's also lovely with eggs and bacon or as an alternative to smashed avocado on rye considering there is now absolutely NO possibility of millennials EVER being able to buy a house!! (haha)

Slow food Genovese Pesto - the real deal**

* If you want to make this recipe properly you need Genovese small leaf basil, Ligurian olive oil, the best Parmigiano Reggiano and the best Pecorino from Sardinia.

If you can‘t get these because (for example) you are locked away from your gourmet delicatessen or can’t fly to Italy because there is a pandemic, then use the best quality oil and cheese you can get. ( I won’t tell if you don’t )

* Another tip - the traditional way is to grind it all in a stoner mortar which is very noble and authentic and I am sure makes a fabulous pesto, but I use a blender.

2 large cloves of garlic

Salt to taste

2 bunches of Genovese Basil ( or any available small leaf basil)

7 tablespoons of pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/4 cup of grated pecorino cheese, preferably from Sardinia

1/4 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6 tablespoons of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Ligurian.

In a medium stone mortar, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt into a smooth paste with the pestle.

Gradually add the basil leaves, continuing to pound.

Add the pine nuts and both kinds of cheese and continue to pound into a smooth paste.

Add the 6 tablespoons of olive very slowly, grinding the pestle in a circular motion until the pesto is completely amalgamated.

Season with salt.

Serve with pasta, adding just a little pasta water to the pesto. Fusilli is the traditional pasta but any small macaroni will do. It is also traditionally served with thick crepes (testaroli) or boiled potatoes. It is good with gnocchi or with eggs for breakfast.

It will keep for a long time and even stay green if you put it in a jar and top it up with some olive oil. Best kept in the fridge.

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