You will eventually hear from learned (and pedantic) cooks that pesto is more of a technique: pick a plant, a nut, add some flavourings and olive oil, then mash it up into a paste; the word pesto derives from the verb pestare in Italian, which means to pound or crush. Perhaps that cook is me: I’ve made garlic-scape pesto before. And I am a know-it-all.
But when I hear “pesto” I think what you probably think and that’s the traditional pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan and olive oil. It’s a classic that needs no modification.I started gardening for the sole purpose of growing herbs, particularly basil. It is quite expensive to buy at a grocery store. Farmer’s markets in the summer make it more affordable. But gardening is, by far, the most economical. If your climate is hot enough in the summer, I recommend starting a little plot to grow your own. Anything you grow will taste sublime, amped to 11. You will be giddy at how good it tastes, which is particularly vexing if your default is ironic detachment. Even if your brain is saying, It’s just basil (or thyme, or a pepper, or a tomato), calm down, you will still have a dopey grin on your face.
The beauty of growing basil is that you can go get some any time you feel like. And it’s so much more potent because it was just picked that you don’t need much. Three plants is a bounty. You can use it for marinades and in pasta dishes all summer, and still have enough to make a good batch of pesto.
Now, to the pesto. Ingredients matter. Pine nuts may not be common and they can be pricey too. Go to bulk stores for that. Everything else is pretty standard, I think and you should have it at hand: garlic, parmigiano reggiano and extra virgin olive oil.
Depending on how authentic you feel you should be, you can make completely by hand, if you like.
I don’t. I use a food processor. I make it in batches using the small bowl attachment (to hold what most recipes seem to consider “a large bunch” of basil).
This is an insanely good treat. I recommend storing it small jars: you’re going to want to share it, but not too much and only with those whom you truly adore and will be grateful for it. Furthermore, I find it tends to go an ugly dark green once opened; using 1/2 cup all at once is easier than a whole cup.
This freezes just fine. I put the jars in the fridge for a little while to cool down before putting them in the freezer, just in case.
This goes great on pasta, of course. It’s a true pleasure on roast potatoes as well. Or try a dollop on risotto.
Makes 1 cup
- 1 large bunch of basil, leaves picked and washed
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1/4 cup approx. parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- pinch salt and pepper
- extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup
In the small bowl attachment of your food processor, put the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt & pepper, parmesan and a glug of oil.
Turn on the food processor. Start drizzling oil until the whole works start to get blitzed up. You may need to stop the food processor to scrape the sides once.
If preserving, place the pesto in your jars. Top with some olive oil so the exposed surface of the pesto is covered (this prevents yucky dark pesto from oxidation).