Back in the late 1990’s new job responsibilities lead me to discover the Big Bend area of Texas and introduced me to a world full of splendorous topographical extremes, to folk in remote communities and to surprise pockets of sophistication where I’d least expected it. My adventures included hiking in the national and state parks, having astronomers on a mountaintop ask me to send some classical music cassettes their way because their resource was a mail order record club (this was long before the internet and Amazon) and the rustic cafe at Terlingua Ranch, reached by driving over 18 miles on gravel roads off the highway. The cook waited on the highway once a week for supplies from the Schwan’s Frozen Foods Truck. I worked with a remote frontier clinic physician assistant who used telemedicine in providing health care and arranged delivery by bus for medicines from the nearest pharmacy about 80 miles away. I have many warm memories of the people of the area and how much I learned from them and with them. I still go back as a tourist. In the ensuing 20-something years, some of the people are new to me. While things have grown and changed, the frontier spirit remains. I still love to spend time on the porch at the Terlingua Mercantile and and the Starlight Theater next door, now an amazing restaurant. And, when in Alpine, going to the Reata Restaurant is a must.
Grady Spears, a city boy turned cow puncher, chuckwagon cook and restaurateur is a man I have long admired and but not yet to met. He was the founding cook of the Riata and, with what he learned from ranch cooks, elevated cowboy cooking to cowboy cuisine. He went to Ft. Worth and opened the Chisolm Club downtown. After a tornado, he moved to the Caravan of Dreams building and opened a second Reata. I’m sure that somewhere, he is still making good old ranch hand food into amazing fare for city slickers. I was thinking about the Big Bend Bluebonnets the other day and wondering if there had been enough rain for a good bloomout this year. That lead me to the bookshelf and my three Grady Spears cookbooks. I got a hankerin’, looked up a recipe I hadn’t made in years and got to cooking. He calls it Cilantro-Nut Mash. I respect that very much. These days, people seem to call any vegetable or green leaf chopped in a food processor a pesto. Grady’s Cilantro-NutMash is what it is , so don’t you be callin’ it cilantro pesto where I can hear you!
The Cilantro-Nut Mash is a great accompaniment for chicken and fish. In the photo above, the chicken had a mild chipotle rub, was browned in a skillet and finished off in the oven while corn, green onion and grape tomatoes were season, wrapped in foil and roasted.
1 Cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (loosely packed)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped pecans (I like them lightly toasted)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp smooth goat cheese
Kosher salt to taste
Combine cilantro, cheese, pecans and garlic in a food processor. Pulse and gradually add oil. Add goat Cheese and season with salt, pulse until just slightly smooth.