September 1, 2010

Why I've Never Made Pesto Until Now

My sweet basil has done really well this year. I sowed the seed directly into the ground, and though the plants were slow to grow, I had more than plenty by midsummer. Usually I grow it to sauté with my summer squash. Then I'll dry a bit for winter cooking. While I was reading Animal Vegetable Miracle, freezing pesto was mentioned and I thought, "Hmm.  Maybe I could do that."

Herbs peak right before blooming. This is when their volitile oil content is highest. So whether the herbs are desired for medicinal or culinary uses, the best time to pick is between the time the flower buds have formed but before they open.  I was able to gather a huge armload.

I had done an internet search for pesto recipes. Almost all of them call for mixing the entire thing in a food processor. I remembered that I had a processor attachment for my blender, and got that out. Unfortunately, it was too small to process more than a portion of my basil harvest. Mixing an entire recipe was out of the question.

So I did it by hand. I used the food processor to finely chop the sweet basil and garlic, then stirred in grated Parmesan cheese, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. The one ingredient I didn't add, was nuts.

Every pesto recipe seems to call for nuts. Some list pine nuts, most others walnuts. If you've ever priced pine nuts, you know why walnuts are substituted.  The problem is that my DH doesn't really like nuts. Not as an ingredient to most foods anyway. That's when I remembered why I'd never made pesto before.

Since I had so much basil, I figured I'd just make it without the nuts. I froze five pints worth and we had it on penne for dinner that night.

I wasn't sure of the ratio of pesto to pasta, so I just dumped a bunch together and mixed. Once I got the salt adjusted, it was absolutely de-lish. Hopefully I can get a second batch before the basil patch gives out.

Why I've Never Made Pesto Until Now photos and text © 1 September 2010 by Leigh at


Michelle said...

I've never made pesto, either, and we all love it. How exciting to hear that it turns out tasty without the nuts; they ARE expensive! But my mom got me some pinenuts that I have been hoarding in the freezer just for pesto, and I have pretty healthy looking plants, so armed with the new knowledge of the best time to harvest, I'd better Just Do It!

Tina T-P said...

Basil & garlic and Parm. cheese are all things that The Shepherd turns his nose up at - so no basil in our garden - I like to mix it with cream cheese as a spread for crackers or toasted french bread...

It's been a while since I've had a chance to read any blogs - loved your goat story - you are developing quite a little family out there - I can only imagine that your new goat thought the llama was something from the netherworld - and chickens - what the heck are they???

Dried watermelon? Who'd have thought - does it get kind of krispy at all? Well, I still want to do my "colors of August" before August is gone - so I'd better get to it. Take care - T.

Tami said...

Put me in the "never made pesto" camp too. This is why I love your blog Leigh...You get me thinking of things I've never done before.

(and I even had a pot of basil on the front porch this year...)

Anonymous said...

I love making pesto, but I make it in little batches to last for just two or three meals so I have never outstripped my food-processing capacity! I use the chopper attachment on my trusty kenwood - it works with an inverted jar screwed onto the chopper, so you just turn the jar the right way up and put a lid on when you are done (cook gets to scrape the extra pesto off the chopper blades and lick!)

But an even simpler recipe is what we call "Horace", but which Horace (the Roman poet) apparently called "thunder and lightning". Pasta, chick peas, olive oil and basil all tossed together and served with grated parmesan. Yum yum yum.

Theresa said...

It looks beautiful. I'm not a big pesto eater, it's that garlic thing with me, but we do love basil. I do it fresh and lightly chopped with shrimp, butter, italian parsley lemon juice, wine and a little broth. Cook down, add shrimp and herbs to cook, salt/pepper to taste and serve over pasta. We put the pasta right into the pan to let it really soak up the broth. Light and fresh tasting, a good summer meal that is very quick.
Oh, and I do make Thunder & Lightening and it's very good!

Nina said...

I don't usually do anything special with basil. I've got enough frozen in cubes to last the winter. I use it in pasta sauces, potato and pasta salads, dips and other types of regular food.

Anonymous said...

My favorite ever use for basil pesto is for potato pesto pizza. I usually freeze the basil, oil and salt, sometimes with nuts, sometimes without. (I add good parmesan at time of use -- to me it tastes better that way.)
To make pizza, boil whole a medium sized waxy potato, and allow to cool enough to slice thinly.
While the potato is cooling, grate some good parmesan. Mash 1-2 cloves of garlic with salt, and mix in with the parmesan.
On a pizza crust, spread the pesto, add potatoes, parmesan, and fresh mozzarella. Cook, serve, swoon.

Anonymous said...

I make pesto in the summer with large bunches of basil from the farmer's market. I don't add the cheese until I am ready to serve because it doesn't freeze well, and you really don't taste the nuts as much. I spray an ice cube tray with non-stick spray and then freeze pesto in ice cubes, collecting them in a freezer bag.

Leigh said...

Michelle, what a wonderful mom you've got! Maybe I should ask for a couple pounds of pine nuts for Christmas, LOL.

Tina, mmm, I like the idea of making a spread with it with cream cheese. I'll have to try it with yogurt cheese.

I know what you mean about about blog visiting! The dried watermelon is more like fruit leather, firm but a little sticky and of course sweet. :)

Tami, I had to do something with all that sweet basil! Do give it a try. Even one plant will give you enough for a pasta dish. (You'll probably find yourself planting more next year!)

Cally, I love the idea of a ready to go jar for the food processor! (Anything to save clean-up time :)

I've never heard of either Horace or thunder & lightening. I do like chickpeas though, so I will have to give this a try!

Theresa, the shrimp dish sounds divine. Wonderful idea to cook the pasta in the juices!

Nina, I should try that with the ice cube trays. I think frozen herbs would taste so much better than dried, but I've never tried to freeze them before. Another new thing to add to the list. :)

Ali, pizza with potato! Who would have thought. I'll give it a try.

Anonymous, I read that about freezing cheese in several pesto recipes. The only reason for not freezing cheese, that I'm familiar with, is because freezing makes the cheese crumbly after its de-thawed. IOW it's no good for slicing. I have in fact found this to be true, but I do freeze cheeses that I'm going to grate anyway, like mozzarella. I'll have to let you know about the Parmesan. It's certainly easier to make a big batch all at once, but if it effects the flavor, it would be just as easy to add before serving, like you suggest. I figured an experiment wouldn't hurt!

Woolly Bits said...

I like pesto, too - but my basil isn't much to write home about - too cold over here. so I use the leaves sparingly fresh (and have to buy dried for most of the year:((. I do however have a lot of wild garlic (allium ursinum)in the garden, and I make my pesto out of this! and I have a recipe for pesto made with parsley (keeps well too!), where they use almonds instead of pine nuts. this worked well and cost far less, so now I use almonds for the wild garlic pesto too... I use them as they are, which gives the pesto a darker colour with brown flecks, but if people really didn't like that colour - they could always skin the almonds before use....

What Pigs Don't Know said...

We LOVE pesto and I make it every chance I get! I have never used pine nuts because they are way too expensive. But we do use nuts - whatever I have on hand - walnuts, almonds, pecans and/or cashews. Pecans being the cheapest for us since we get them from our tree! Put the nuts in the cuisinart with basil (or cilantro or parsley or a mixture of any of the three), parmesan, garlic, salt, olive oil, and a little pepper & fresh lemon juice. Much less expensive than the stuff you buy at the store. In addition to putting on pasta, the pesto tastes great with tomatoes & fresh mozzarella, with cream cheese on bagels, on "sandwich" wraps, in omlettes, and added to soups - just to name a few. Glad you've joined the pesto bandwagon! -Carrie

Anonymous said...

I've made two batches of pesto so far this summer. My food processor is my mom's from the 1970s. It's a big one, but still I need to do smaller batches. The better the cheese, the better the pesto!

I don't add the nuts because dh doesn't like nuts in foods like that. I actually like it better without the nuts.

Put it on top of a grilled burger and top w/mozzarella cheese. You'll think you died and went to Heaven!

The Mom said...

I have never made basil pesto, this year I made garlic scape pesto though. Last year I dried my extra basil and it turned out well.

Renee Nefe said...

I don't think that I've ever come across a recipe that you couldn't leave the nuts out of. Glad you liked it, we usually end up feeding the rabbits the extra basil after I just put some in the freezer.

Leigh said...

Bettina, what a great idea to use wild garlic. And almonds too! I think I would like the crunch and Dan does like almonds. I'll have to make a sample batch and see what he thinks.

Carrie, what great ideas for pesto. Thank you! We have pecan trees too. I don't know if Dan likes them as well as I do though. I like the idea of adding parsley and cilantro too!

Oh Paula, the mention of pesto on a grilled burger with mozzarella has got my mouth watering! I'm so glad the basil is still growing well. My DH is the same as yours, not keen on nuts. Fortunately it is good without them.

Heather, garlic pesto sounds yummy too. Of course, we love our garlic.

Renee, feed the extra to the bunnies! Good idea. Too bad I don't have bunnies any more. :(

Benita said...

Gosh that looks good! I've never made pesto, but I use basil in just about everything that has tomatoes in it.

The Chicken Keepers said...

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Theresa said...

Leigh, I let the pasta finish cooking with the broth.
Taking it out of it's boiling water when it's almost al dente. Cooking it in the broth would require much more than I typically make, might be able to do very fine egg noodles that way. I prefer linguine myself.

Sheryl at Providence North said...

I had loads of basil this year too and made pesto for the first time. I skipped the nuts too, just garlic, basil and parmesan. I froze it all in ice cube trays, then put the little cubes in a large freezer bag. Now I just add a cube or two to things. I still have tons of basil in the garden not being used. I think I'll just chop and freeze some for cooking, probably in ice cube trays. I did that with the excess spinach and it works well.

Leigh said...

Benita, basil is good with anything tomato. In fact, some of my pizza sauce is basil.

Chicken Keepers, thanks for visiting and taking the time to comment. Your blog is pretty neat too!

Theresa, ah, that makes sense. Actually it sounds like an excellent way to "use up" the excess broth. I like linguine too. And Dan likes angel hair. But I buy a variety just because pasta comes in so many neat shapes and styles!

Sheryl, I'm going to have to try those ice cube trays for herbs and pesto. Such a prefect way to measure out just the amount needed. Good idea about the spinach too.

Robin said...

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE pesto. I could eat it every day. We didn't get enough basil to freeze any extra this year.


Looks yummy! You can also make sandwiches with Pesto. Fresh baked bread, spread pesto on both sides, sliced tomatoes, and sliced buffalo mozzarella, bake open face until the cheese melts then serve. Oh Lord now I'm really hungry.

Julie said...

Yummy! I love basil and we use it with bread, tomato's and cheese!

Leigh said...

Robin, you can add me to that list! I love it now too. And its pretty exciting to read all the comments and learn all the things that can be done with it. Too bad about your basil. Hopefully better next year!

Bety, that sounds incredibly yummy. Now I'm hungry too!

Julie, that sounds easy and delicious. I'll have to try that too.

icebear said...

i have used macadamia nuts in place of pine nuts, i liked it :o)

Sharon said...

I LOVE pesto. I bought a food processor just so I could make it.

Pesto means paste and the Italian version has a low oil content. I found a recipe from our local CSA webside that I'm very fond of and have made many frozen ice-cute tray batches of. It too calls for pine nuts but I substituted almonds instead. I need to make more while I still can.

Geodyne said...

I've alway found that freezng basil leaves straight work as well. Yes they blacken but they go well into winter pasta sauces.

Making your pesto by hand was a good thing. You can never get the right consistency, and therefore flavour, with a blender.

Leigh said...

Icebear, ooo, I love macadamia nuts!

Sharon, I did think this batch was a bit too oily. Would love to know your recipe.

Geodyne, thank you for that! I think doing things by hand is often so much better. I think texture and consistency is something that will come with experience.