Pesto is pretty versatile – I serve it over hot pasta or make a cold pasta salad with it, I spread it on toasted baguette slices for an easy appetizer, I brush a bit of it on chicken before roasting…the possibilities seem endless.
Pesto is also easy to make, though it’s a bit more work because I harvest the basil from my garden. It’s much easier to pick up an already-cleaned bunch of it at my local grocer than to have to pick through and clean a pile like this:
Oh, but it’s beautiful, isn’t it?
So I find my zen place and calmly and methodically rinse and separate the good leaves from the bad, then I rinse them again and lay them on a towel to air dry. Try not to bruise the leaves when picking and cleaning, as that releases their fragrant oils and flavor.
Pesto is a recipe that’s easy to customize and adjust to your tastes. Like it a bit thinner? Add a bit more olive oil. Don’t like much garlic? Lessen the amount. Want it thicker and chunkier? Add more nuts and don’t grind it as finely. Want to use the classic pine nuts instead of the walnuts that I use? Feel free. Here’s my base recipe, though I often tweak it a bit here and there.
Basil Pesto Recipe
- 2-4 cloves garlic, depending on their size
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil + more (or less) as needed
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
I use a food processor for this, though I’ve used a blender in the past. This process goes pretty quickly, so assemble everything you’ll need and have it ready to go: Peel the garlic cloves, squeeze the lemon juice, grate the Parmesan. Also, if you’re freezing your pesto like I do, you’ll want to have storage bags or containers ready to go. (see the end of this post for how I freeze mine)
Add the garlic and walnuts to your food processor:
Process them together until well ground and a dry paste has formed:
Remove the lid of the processor, scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula and if there are any chunks, replace the lid and pulse until smooth.
Add the basil. Sprinkle the lemon juice over the top of the leaves, replace the lid but remove the pour spout and have your olive oil ready. Pulse the basil mixture a few times, then turn it the processor and drizzle the olive oil into the mixture. If your pesto seems thin enough before adding all the olive oil, stop adding it. If you’ve added all of it and it still seems a bit thick, add a bit more olive oil until the pesto reaches the consistency you want. Do this olive oil step as quickly as possible and stop processing as soon as it’s blended and the consistency you’re looking for – don’t over process. Add the Parmesan, pulse a few times just to blend it in, and you’re done.
A couple of key things to my method here:
The lemon juice and the minimal processing of the basil leaves will both help keep the pesto from turning brown. If this does happen, it still tastes good it just doesn’t keep this bright green color:
This photo is 3 batches of this recipe. Why so much? Because I freeze it, of course!
Again, you want to work quickly with pesto – I don’t like to take any chances that the air exposure is going to turn it brown.
I put a serving into a plastic sandwich bag – I know, not very eco-friendly, but it’s been the best way I’ve found to keep the air out and let it freeze well. Sadly, liquid mixtures like this don’t work well in my old-school Food Saver.
Anyway, I put a serving into a plastic sandwich bag and roll the filled end over the empty end of the bag, to press out most of the air from the bag. I then seal the bag and do the same with another bag, double bagging it.
Then, using a permanent marker, I write the date on each bag, and place them in the freezer. These keep well for me in the freezer for about 5 months this way.
I’ve read pros and cons about adding the Parmesan before freezing but it’s never been an issue for me. My pesto freezes well and tastes great when I thaw it and use it, cheese and all.
It was a busy cooking weekend for me this weekend! I’ll be sharing my homemade ricotta cheese recipe and zucchini bread recipe later this week.
Hope you all are enjoying your weekend and stay safe. Peace.