If you grow herbs like I do, by about now you have a boat load of basil. Basil is one of my favorite herbs to grow. There’s just something so satisfying about growing it – I just can’t explain it. But when you get massive amounts, what’s the best way to use it? The answer it simple – make pesto!
I’m sure most of you have a favorite pesto recipe. Mine is pretty basic but I’ve found that by keeping it that way I can be more creative when I actually use it. From pizza to pasta to sandwiches and the like, basil pesto is an excellent accompaniment to just about any dish. So here’s my lessons learned and recipe – would love if you would share yours!
Lesson Learned 1 – The hardest part of making pesto is preparing the basil leaves: Picking them off the plant and washing and drying them are probably the most labor intensive part of making pesto. If you have a salad spinner, I recommend using that to remove the excess water once the leaves are washed. Unfortunately I don’t have one so I have to lightly squeeze them between paper towels. You don’t want to have a lot of water in your pesto so it is important to remove the excess. And make sure you CHECK FOR BUGS! We are not the only species that likes basil. Once when I was cleaning my leaves I found a “thousand legger” in with the leaves. So make sure you check. I don’t think you’ll want to put a bug in the food processor!
Lesson Learned 2 – The amount of garlic and olive oil you use is strictly personal preference: I like my pesto garlicky and thick. Some only like a hint of garlic and a runnier pesto. Determine what you like by easing into it. I use two whole cloves of garlic for 4 cups of leaves. Start with one clove if you’re not sure. With the olive oil, only put half the amount or 1/4 cup in the food processor to start. You can drizzle in more as the leaves are processing until you get the desire consistency. Only once did I use the full 1/2 cup of oil. That was the first time I made pesto, and I found it to be too runny. Now I start with 1/4 cup and drizzle some olive oil into the processor until I reach my desired consistency depicted in the picture below.
Lesson Learned 3 – Be careful about adding salt: Romano and Parmesan cheese are naturally salty. I would taste the pesto before you add any salt. I seldom add salt because the cheese seems to provide the flavor I want.
Lesson Learned 4 – Pesto freezes very well: I’ve heard that some people take ice cube trays and fill them with pesto so they can have individual servings whenever they need them. I tend to put mine in a few small containers and freeze them. That way I can chop off what I need at the time and put the rest back in the freezer or use it up all at once. I’ve had pesto in airtight containers last up to a year in my freezer.
Basic Basil Pesto
4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1 small shallot, cut into pieces
3 TBS. pine nuts
1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated romano or parmesan cheese
salt, if desired
Wash basil leaves and remove excess water. Place the basil, shallot, pine nuts, cheese and 1/4 cup oil in a food processor. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor at least once. Check the consistency of the pesto. If too thick, drizzle in more oil while processing until the pesto reaches the desired consistency.
Use or freeze. If not using immediately, store in an airtight container in your refrigerator or freezer.