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Home-grown pesto a convenient delight

Fresh herbs make summer cooking fragrant and fun. A taste of basil from a pot outside my door along with other herbs generously supplied from parents' yard liven up pasta dishes and more.

Over the holiday weekend I cooked up a variety of herbaceous delights.

A pasta recipe clipped from a magazine called for whole wheat penne, sauteed zucchini and garlic all tossed with fresh basil, mint, parsley, lemon zest and grated Parmesan cheese. The serving spoon made plenty of trips in and out of the bowl and the dish got good reviews from everyone who partook.

Torn basil leaves brightened up an ordinary tortilla panini I made by sandwiching cheddar cheese, deli roast beef and tomato slices in between an 8-inch whole wheat tortilla folded in half and pressed inside a Foreman grill. ("Panini" is just a fancy way of saying "grilled cheese sandwich.") Easy, cheesy sandwiches are a staple of my lunchtime menu.

My favorite culinary creation over the weekend, however, was a pesto penne dish I made with lemon pepper chicken thighs.

I ground up a quick pesto with a mini food processor using leaves from my basil plant along with fresh mint and sage harvested from the folks's yard. A garlic clove, a dash of pepper and a couple tablespoons of slivered almonds, Parmesan cheese and olive oil completed the tasty sauce. I mixed the pesto with cooked whole wheat penne, a half cup of reserved cooking water and grated lemon peel. I topped the dish off with boneless, skinless chicken thighs seasoned with lemon pepper and cooked in olive oil until they were nice and crispy. Freshly grated Parmesan cheese added the finishing touch.

Homegrown herbs appeal to both the food lover and the cheapskate in me. Seasonings that would have added up to $6 or more if purchased at the store can be picked whenever there's enough foliage. Once the initial investment of planting is made there really isn't any additional cost.

Convenience is nice, too. All I have to do is open up my screen door to clip a sprig of basil.

This is the first time I've grown any outdoor plants at my apartment. I wanted basil because it is one of my favorite herbs and it's very hard to find good, affordable basil in the grocery store. Delicate basil leaves are great mixed in with soups and pasta sauces at the end of the cooking process.

Warm summer days were a little slow to arrive this year, but I'm making the most of the short season. The aromatic addition of rosemary, thyme and their sweet-smelling leafy friends are good company for lazy day meals.