Friday, August 3, 2012

When Basil Flourishes, Make Pesto

In my garden, the basil is growing wildly.  Three tiny black seeds that I sowed in the April soil have turned into three enormous plants that are covered with leaves, and, because I have been tardy in picking the basil leaves before they bloomed, flowers.  Herbs have the best flavor before they bloom, but even with the blossoms, this basil will make wonderful pesto.   

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I cut the plants off low to the ground, and they are already growing new leaves which I’ll make into another batch of pesto.  After I picked them in the morning, I let them sit in a sink of water for a while to give any critters time to leave the plants.

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After I picked off the leaves, I washed them and spun them dry in my salad spinner.

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I used one bulb, which means all the individual cloves of garlic on one of these bulbs, in the pesto.

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Traditionalists will be horrified, but I use cashew nuts in my pesto instead of pine nuts.  They are easier to find, much cheaper, and their flavor is similar to pine nuts.  The above picture shows the garlic and cashews I am about to chop in the food processor.

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I add parmesan cheese to the cashews and the garlic.  A food processor makes the entire process much easier. 

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I add basil, salt and pepper, and olive oil to the cashews, garlic, and cheese in the food processor bowl.  I  blend it until it’s the consistency of a thick liquid, adding more oil if necessary, and tasting to make sure the flavors are correct.IMG_2219

Here’s the finished product, ready to go into the freezer. 

I don’t actually use a recipe to make pesto because I’ve made it so long that I don’t need one.  When I was learning to cook, I remember asking my mother for recipes and she’s say, “I don’t use one, I just put in “enough.”  She was kind enough to figure out recipes with me, but I couldn’t imagine how anyone could cook without a recipe.

Now that I’m an experienced cook, I understand that eventually, you cook something so many times that you no longer need a recipe.  For those of you who need a recipe,  here’s a good one from Simply Recipes.com.  It suggests using walnuts in place of pine nuts.  For a true southern flavor, try collard greens and pecans.

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes

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INGREDIENTS
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
METHOD

1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.

Yield: Makes 1 cup.

 

If your garden lacks basil plants, make sure to add some next year.  If you want to make some pesto this year, ask neighbors or friends, or your favorite farmer at the market.  Someone surely has some overgrown basil plants they’d be happy to share, especially if you give them a sample of the finished product.

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