Fresh basil the key to simple, savory spread

Whether your fresh herbs come from the garden or the grocery store, now is the time to harvest them. We particularly like fresh basil, which pairs well with tomatoes, baked potatoes or pasta.

But it's pesto that really brings the flavor of basil to life. Made with basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, pesto can be enjoyed simply spread on a fresh loaf of bread. It also can enhance pasta or vegetable dishes.

Though pesto was traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, using a food processor makes pesto preparation a snap. Adding a little parsley to the mix helps keep the pesto a bright green.

Here, we've included instructions for making a basic pesto, as well as a recipe for pesto pasta and another for vegetables with pesto.

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves

1⁄2 cup chopped parsley

1 teaspoon salt

1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

1⁄2 olive oil

1⁄4 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts

1⁄2 grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Place the basil, parsley, salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Blend until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Transfer the basil mixture to a bowl and stir in the cheese.

This pesto may be kept refrigerated in a tightly covered jar for 2 to 3 weeks.

Source: "The Whole Foods Market Cookbook" by Steve Petusevsky and Whole Foods Market Team Members (Clarkson Potter, $25.95)

Pesto Linguine

3 cloves garlic, cut into pieces

2 cups solidly packed fresh basil

1⁄2 teaspoon salt

Twist or two of freshly ground black pepper

1⁄2 cup olive oil

1⁄2 cup very lightly toasted pine nuts

1⁄2 cup freshly grated Romano or Pecorino cheese

2 tablespoons sweet butter softened at room temperature

1 tablespoon salt for cooking pasta

1 pound (dry) linguine or spaghetti

Combine garlic, basil, salt, pepper, oil and pine nuts in a food processor and blend to a smooth puree, stopping machine once or twice to scrape sides of container with a spatula to even out the pureeing. Add grated cheese and butter and process for about 15 seconds. Scrape sides again and process for another few seconds. Do not over-grind or pesto will have very little texture.

Bring 4 to 5 quarts of water to a boil, add the salt and pasta and cook pasta until done. Drain, saving some water. Stir 1 tablespoon of the hot, reserved water into the pesto. Mix the pesto and pasta and serve immediately.

Source: Whole Foods, www.wholefoods.com

Grilled Summer

Vegetables with Pesto

1 small eggplant, halved lengthwise

1 zucchini, halved lengthwise

1 yellow squash, halved lengthwise

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and quartered lengthwise

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 garlic clove

3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano or 1⁄2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1⁄4 teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

About 1 cup of pesto

Arrange vegetables cut sides up in one layer in a large shallow baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Mince and mash garlic to a paste with a large heavy knife. Whisk garlic paste together with oil, vinegar, oregano and thyme in a bowl and pour over vegetables. Cover vegetables and marinate at room temperature for at least an hour.

Prepare a charcoal or gas grill. If using a charcoal grill, open vents in bottom of grill, then light charcoal. Fire is moderately hot when you can hold your hand 5 inches above rack for just 3 to 4 seconds. If using a gas grill, preheat all burners on high, covered, for about 10 minutes.

Remove vegetables from marinade. Discard marinade.

Lightly oil grill rack. Grill vegetables, turning once, until tender, 18 to 22 minutes total.

Cut zucchini, eggplant and squash pieces crosswise in half. Serve vegetables with pesto.

Note: The vegetables can marinate, covered and refrigerated, for up to 8 hours.

Source: "The Gourmet Cookbook" edited by Ruth Reichl (Houghton Mifflin, $40)