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Monday, July 13, 2009

Classic Basil Pesto

Finally. Finally. FINALLY! Despite not having a garden this year and having to make do with a few late starters in pots on the deck, I finally had enough basil to make my first batch of pesto. And it's a darn good thing, too, because I was starting to go through withdrawal.

I can't remember when I last ran out of pesto. But I've been out now for months. Oh, the shame. See, the nice thing about pesto is that it keeps perfectly in the freezer. In the freezer, it stays the most glorious shade of green forever. I'm not kidding! I've had pesto in the freezer for over a year before with absolutely no degradation in its color or taste. And when it thaws, it tastes like you just picked the basil five minutes ago and whipped it up. You can't beat that!

But here's the problem. Basil, despite being an easy herb to grow, can be hard to come by in large quantities sometimes, and to make a lot of pesto you need a LOT of basil. I know where we live now, I could search until I fell off the edge of the earth and never find anything but those silly plastic containers of herbs you get in the grocery store. Yeah... great, I could make one tablespoon of pesto. In fact, the only time I actually had more basil than I could use was two years ago when I planted a forty foot row of it in my garden. Now that's what I'm talking about! .:sigh:.

Well, until I can get back to the wide spaces of dirt, a couple of basil plants will have to do. I'll just have to be a little stingy in my use of it.

Here's how I make traditional, classic basil pesto:

Take a pile of basil. I picked all that I could without hurting my plants. I got about four cups of loosely packed basil out of this bunch once the leaves were stripped from the stems.

Then I toasted a small handful of pine nuts in a dry skillet. This is my preferred method of toasting nuts. If I put them in the oven where they are out of site, I invariably forget about them (read: burn the heck out of them). I toast them over medium, medium-high heat until they are lightly browned. Let them cool before using in the pesto. You could use untoasted pine nuts, but I think I'd rather have my pesto without them rather than go the untoasted route. There's a huge difference in flavor.

I use my food processor here. Throw in the basil, garlic, cooled pine nuts, salt, and pepper and whir the heck out of it.

Stop when it gets to looking about like this:

Now for the best part. Add the cheese. I use Parmigiano-Reggiano, but you could go Wisconsin style if you choose. Lastly, while the processor is running, add the oil. Process until you get a loose paste. I like to keep my pesto a little on the thick side. I figure you can always add oil later if you want to thin it down, but it's kind of hard to take it out.

Either use fresh immediately or freeze. You can store it in the refrigerator for up to a week, but unless you pour a generous skim of oil across the top or add some kind of acid, you're going to end up with very unattractive, brown pesto. Darn that oxidation! Unless I'm using it right away, I just freeze the pesto into ice cube trays. When they are frozen, pop the cubes out and store in a zip top bag. Then, they are always at your beck and call. They thaw in the microwave in 20 seconds flat!

Classic Basil Pesto
Yield: one cup of pesto
4 cups of fresh basil leaves
3-5 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
3 TBS toasted pine nuts
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Process the basil, garlic, salt, pepper, and pine nuts until well ground together. Add the cheese and then add the oil while pulsing the mixture. Add oil until you get a loose paste. You can add more oil until it gets to the consistency you like. Freeze immediately into ice cube trays for long term storage or use fresh immediately. If you must store in the refrigerator for a bit, be sure to cover with a generous skim of olive oil or add some lemon juice to the pesto to prevent browning.
My favorite uses for basil pesto are on pasta (such a quick, easy, and tasty side dish) or broiled onto nearly cooked chicken breasts or pork chops. Oooo, and rolled up in a nice pork loin; that's good, too.


  1. Pesto is from Genova...that is where I live...just had an Italian into our home show me how to make real Pasta alla Genovese. If you would like the recipe I would be happy to let you know it is very different then American Pesto! Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work!! Everything always looks soooo good!!

  2. Natalie, I would love to see that recipe! I'm very interested now to see how Italian and American pesto differ. If you could email it to me, that would be wonderful! Thanks so much!

  3. What a wonderful post! I never realized the pesto freezes so well. I would have expected it to get all grayish green unpon thawing. Thanks for the wonderful tip! I have just moved to FL too and haven't had a chance to scope out what herbs will be available. I know it will be a huge change after having a garden in England though.

  4. That looks so good!!!!! I need to make this!


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