I sit down on a box, try to calm down. I can't. I pick up another note. It says:
Remember that pesto you made with walnuts instead of pine nuts? Well, I tried pecans, and you know what? Even better...
My mother makes pesto with walnuts! This is even better than sleeping with lilacs. So normal. So I think I'll whip up some pasta with pesto for dinner. My mother bangs around a kitchen. She puts walnuts and basil and olive oil in a food processor, and presses blend. She boils water for pasta! I have to tell Bails. I want to scream out the window at her: Our mother boils water for pasta!
– Chapter 29, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson years ago in a young adult literature class in college. Whereas I didn't care much for the sex (though I understood its place) and wanted the main character Lennie to traverse her grief and discover her new self without such intense attachment to a boy, the writing was beautiful and lyrical and I could appreciate how it resonated with the passions of youth and the desperation of loss.
There are several food mentions in the novel but, as mentioned above, nestled in amongst Gram's letters to Lennie's absentee mother Paige, is a simple recipe for pesto (printed in the book) which Lennie instantly attaches to pasta. In that moment it means the world to her because never had she thought of her mother as someone who did something so prosaic as boiling water. A deep longing fills Lennie, but as her thoughts continue, she painfully wonders how a mother who boils water for pasta could leave two little girls behind.
Gram's Pecan Pesto Pasta (or Paige's w/ Walnuts)
2 Cups Packed Fresh Basil Leaves
2/3 Cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Pecans OR Walnuts
1/3 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan
2 Large Garlic Cloves, mashed
1/2 tsp. Salt + more for the pasta water
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice (optional)
12 oz. Uncooked Pasta (I used bowties)
1. Heat your oven to 350ºF & line a baking tray with foil & spray it with non-stick spray. Spread the nuts out on the tray & bake for 5 minutes.
2. Combine the toasted nuts and all of the ingredients except for the pasta in a blender or food processor & blend until smooth. Sit aside until the pasta is cooked.
3. Bring about 3 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil & then add in the pasta. Stirring occasionally, bring back to a boil & let cook for about 14 minutes or until cooked through. Drain the pasta & run under cold water.
4. Transfer the pasta to a bowl & toss it with the pesto until completely coated. Garnish each serving with a sprinkling of parmesan, a couple of pecans or walnuts, and a drizzle of lemon juice.