The greatest reward for all the work of putting together the seed starting table, starting the seeds, watering the seedlings, setting them in the garden, weeding, weeding and weeding is the EATING. There is nothing like the taste of fresh produce. We are using some of that fresh basil in a recipe for pesto sauce.
I cannot believe that I grew to adulthood before I knew what fresh basil, oregano or rosemary tasted like. Don’t get me wrong, I love the taste of these herbs when they are dried but they taste like totally different plants. And then I learned about Pesto. Fantastic ways to preserve the fresh flavor of herbs!
The Pleasure of Herbs
Along this herb-strewn path, I found a copy of Phyllis Shaudys’ The Pleasure of Herbs; A Month-by-Month Guide to Growin, Using and Enjoying Herbs (Storey Communications, 1986) in the library and I checked it out so many times that I finally bought my own copy.
Phyllis also wrote Herbal Treasures. I have put so many markers in these books over the years that I finally started labeling my markers. I go back to these pages all the time so I might as well be able to find things quickly. Some of my ideas for new plants to try in our garden like we discuss here have come from these books. The Pleasure of Herbs is where I learned the basic recipe for fresh basil pesto sauce that works so well for me. This recipe comes from this book with some of my own modifications.
Recipe for Fresh Basil Pesto Sauce
Pesto made from Fresh Basil
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves washed leaves, no stems
- 1/4 cup walnuts pine nuts or pecans
- 3 cloves fresh garlic peeled
- 1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese grated or shredded
- 3/4 cup olive oil won't use all the 3/4 cup
- Use a food processor with the chopping blade in place. Process the basil, garlic, and nuts in the processor until pulverized. Stop periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cheese and pulse just until the cheese is mixed in. While the processor is running drizzle in enough oil to form a paste of desired consistency.
It will look something like this. It won’t be soupy but also not dry.
It is important to the texture that you pick the leaves off the stem to make pesto. If you throw the stems and all in the processor, it will chop up everything but it will taste like you are eating sticks. Don’t skip this important step. Edible does not always mean palatable.
Another hint is to not let the processor get too hot or the cheese will melt. It is a temptation to walk off and let the processor do its thing while pulverizing the fresh basil, cloves, and nuts but don’t do it! If the cheese melts, pesto becomes a completely different product. We are not going to discuss how I know this. Just trust me!
This recipe is so easy to double, triple or even quadruple if you have an abundance of basil. Since the basil is pulverized, it doesn’t matter if the leaves are slightly damaged. If they are really dried out or black, they will not work. If there are little bug holes in some of them, they are still fine.
To preserve, pack the pesto into small jars or small plastic containers. Leave enough head space to pour a small amount of olive oil on top of the pesto.
The olive oil seals out the oxygen while the jar is in the freezer so that the basil stays that gorgeous green and keeps its fresh basil taste. Put on the lid and store upright in the freezer until you need it.
Use Pesto Sauce with Pasta
Pesto makes a great addition to family meals all winter long. We especially love it with pasta. I love to use it in the meat sauce that I put in Lasagna and Spaghetti sauce. A really fast meal is to stir the Pesto Sauce into hot spaghetti noodles and top with shrimp sauteed in butter.
Pesto sauce works great wherever a recipe calls for basil. How about soup or dips?
Making Pesto a Family Affair
One year, a family of sisters bought several grocery sacks of basil from me so that they could all enjoy pesto for the whole winter. “What a lot of work”, I thought. This summer, two of my own sisters came to visit me so I had to share some of my abundance of Lime Basil. We made pesto. We had a great time visiting, pulling leaves off stems, measuring and processing and then enjoying a delicious Shrimp Pesto lunch. Those sisters really had the right idea.
Now that you know the basics…what would you change? Maybe the folks you cook for don’t like the taste of walnuts. Try a nut you are more familiar with. Maybe you want to try a different fresh herb or a different cheese. Your imagination is the limit.
Lime Basil is amazing to me! It smells like hmmmm let’s see…like pixie dust or fairy magic and it tastes absolutely unbelievable. So one of my favorite pestos is Lime Basil and pecans.
Some of Phyllis Shaudys’ pesto recipes call for oregano and parsley in addition to basil. The basic recipe is your guide, it doesn’t have to be strictly adhered to.
If you didn’t grow any herbs of your own this summer, check out the herb booth at your local farmer’s market. Then, don’t forget to come back and leave us some feedback to tell us how your masterpiece turned out.