It’s really been time to make pesto for at least a week – but time, you know – it just evaporates and then I find myself looking down a row of basil that just simply needs attention NOW! That’s where I found myself this afternoon – with a spare hour to my credit – so pesto had to happen!
Believe it or not, pesto is one of the easiest things to make. It doesn’t really take much – a couple of cups of basil leaves, some pine nuts, some garlic, some parmesan cheese, and some olive oil. Being the lazy girl that I am, I really feel strongly that a food processor is high up on the list of necessary ingredients of making pesto! :)
See – only takes up a little corner on my counter:
Ideally, you want to wait until your basil plants are at least 10 inches tall before you start harvesting the leaves. And if you hadn’t heard it before, it’s time for you to know that plants that go to flower tend to be bitter – so you want to harvest when they start to flower. Important note: if you deadhead (i.e., pinch off the flowering part of the plant) it doesn’t actually halt the flowering of basil, it just spurs the plant to produce more flowers. Rather than deadhead, cut at least six leaf pairs down the stem. The plant will then begin leaf production again – giving you more to harvest soon! (See Organic Gardening magazine for some excellent resources on growing basil.)
So – as you can see, this plant is definitely at least 10 inches tall – in fact, it’s 18 inches tall – so time to harvest! A good rule of thumb is to cut the stems just above the second set of leaves (counting from the ground up). This will cause new stems to form at this juncture. (Cool, huh?) If you trim your basil often – every 10 days or even less – the better flavor your basil will have.
Here’s the same plant after it’s little – ahem – hair cut.
Not a bad harvest, huh? And just to make sure we’ve got some truth in advertising going on here, this is harvest from TWO plants, not just one.
I typically put the collander in the sink, pull the leaves from the stems, and put the just pulled leaf into the collander. The work goes pretty quickly. I pull all of the leaves I can possibly get from a stem – avoiding any flower or seed “spikes” that are at the apex of the stem.
Once all of the leaves have been pulled from the stems, I wash them thoroughly – seriously, can take up to five full minutes to make sure they’re thoroughly clean!
That was a lot of leaves, huh? Would you have guessed it was only 4 cups of leaves? Make sure to pack those leaves down pretty firmly – and don’t forget to drain out any excess water that might settle to the measuring cup. (By the way, I’m making a double batch here.)
The step I forgot to take a picture of is the one where you throw those leaves into the food processor and pulse until they’re pretty finely chopped.
Next, you add the pine nuts. I used about 7 tablespoons of them. Also, some people prefer walnuts – it’s fine to use either, but I love the pine nuts myself. Pulse some more, until they are chopped and incorporated.
Now you add the garlic. Some people keep minced garlic on hand. See – true confessions come out there… I’ve got a bad attitude about the minced garlic you get in the jar – I just really don’t think it tastes as good or fresh (well, cause it isn’t!). I, of course, recognize that for some folks it really is the best choice for them – but for me, not. Soooo… if you add minced garlic, you don’t need to pulse much here – if at all. If you add cloves of garlic, make sure you pulse until they are minced and incorporated. The recipe calls for 3 garlic cloves – being the garlic-loving girl that I am, I usually double that.
Now the parmesan cheese. Again – going back to the lazy girl thing – while I could pull out the microplane and hunk of parmesan and grate like crazy to get the 1/2 of a cup of parmy, but instead, I hit the freezer for my handy bag of frozen shredded parmesan from Costco. Hey, it works! Go ahead and pulse to incorporate the cheese.
Now, while the food processor is running, gradually add in the 1 cup of olive oil. I use extra virgin olive oil – use whatever you prefer.
Then, I do something that really isn’t called for in any of the recipes that I’ve seen yet, but I do just ’cause I like it this way: I transfer the ingredients from the food processor into a mixing bowl and throw in about another 1/4th a cup of shredded parmesan and use a spatula to mix it in.
Now it’s time to package the pesto. I pretty much make it to put in the freezer – where it will store nicely for up to a year. Woo Hoo! I use 1-cup freezer containers and fill leaving just a little head space. I’ve found over the years that adding a little layer of olive oil on top of the pesto works wonders at keeping it fresh tasting once it’s thawed.
I think the best part about having basil plants in the garden is that it really only takes a few minutes to throw together a batch of pesto – whether it’s a small batch to be used immediately, or a larger batch to prepare for the freezer.
And just in case you don’t have a way to use your wonderful batch of pesto, here’s one of my favorite ways to do so:
Dina’s Favorite Pasta Salad
1 pound of orzo
3/4ths pound Italian roast beef (1/2 inch thick slice)
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
1 small zucchini (peeled, sliced thinly)
1 jar pickled baby corn
1/2 cup pickled carrots
1/4 cup pickled asparagus
1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts
2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
5 green onions, sliced
1/3 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsalmic vinegar
3/4 cup pesto
1 large avocado, diced
6 small tomatoes, wedged
- Dice up pickled vegetables according to your personal preference. Combine all prepared vegetables (omitting avocado and tomatoes) into a large mixing bowl. Add diced italian roast beef. Toss together.
- Cook orzo according to directions. When done, drain – but DO NOT rinse. Toss the hot pasta with the vegetables and beef. (This will steam the vegetables a bit.
- Quickly add in and toss with the pesto, vinegars, and olive oil. Mix thoroughly.
- Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
- Shortly before serving add in grated parmesan cheese and avocado.
- Once completely mixed through, garnish with tomato wedges and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, as well as a few shavings of parmesan cheese. Serve.