Presto! Make Your Own Pesto!

October 26, 2016

By Anna Varriano

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I love basil … and all the other ingredients that go into making this delicious pesto. The basil in my garden was spectacular this year! I didn’t want a single leaf of it to go to waste, so I picked it all just before the first frost warning, and in no time at all, I had a big batch of beautiful homemade pesto that I froze (I show you how … just in case you decide to make a big batch too). Most people use pesto as a pasta ‘sauce’; however, it has so many more uses! It’s great on fish, chicken, and veggies, and it’s a yummy addition to wraps, salad dressings, and dips (or use it as a dip!). Here’s my pesto recipe. It’s easy and so delicious! I tripled this recipe since I had a lot of basil (I had to make it in batches as my food processor couldn’t handle 12 cups of packed basil leaves!). The recipe I’m sharing below makes about a cup of pesto.

What You’ll Need

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  • 4 cups of packed fresh basil leaves – not packed so tight that you squish it … a gentle kind of packed! For a twist, you can substitute some of the basil with spinach, arugula or parsley.  I like the traditional basil-only pesto the best
  • 1/3 cups of roasted pine nuts (roasting is optional, but it adds to the flavour – I’ll explain how to do it). You can also use other nuts if you wish (pine nuts can be pretty expensive). Walnuts and pecans would be yummy! If you have a nut allergy, you can skip this ingredient all together – or you could substitute sunflower or pumpkin seeds to mimic the texture and ‘nutty’ taste pine nuts would add. Either way, the pesto will still be delicious!
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese … Parmigiano-Reggiano (the REAL stuff!) I used closer to 1/2 cup. Suit your taste.
  • 3 to 4 average-sized cloves of garlic (more or less depending on how strong you want it to be)
  • about 1/2 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • salt and pepper to taste (optional, and add once you’ve tasted the finished product. I usually don’t add any salt or pepper as I find the cheese adds saltiness – and I’m not a pepper fan)
  • a food processor … or if you have time and want to be really authentic (and get a work out), a big mortar and pestle. I used a food processor.

Prep Step 1: Pick, Wash, Dry

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  • pick the fresh basil leaves off the stem and discard any that are not not fresh
  • wash/rinse the leaves well
  • dry the leaves well – I used a salad spinner and then patted the leaves dry between two clean dish towels
  • put the leaves aside

Prep Step 2: Roast the Pine Nuts

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You don’t have to roast the pine nuts, but I think they are tastier when they are. Spread them out on a baking dish or sheet and place in a 250F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Check them often and stir them around so they get evenly roasted … and to make sure they don’t burn. They can go from being perfectly roasted to being burnt pretty fast – guess how I know that? :o) I usually roast a big batch as they’re a delicious addition to salads – or you can enjoy them as is. I try to stick to lightly roasting them so as not to damage the oil in the nuts. If you have nut allergies, please be aware that you may react to pine nuts.

Prep Step 3: Prep the Garlic Cloves

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My garlic cloves were from my garden and they were HUGE, so I only used one. After I remove the peel, I like to cut the cloves in half and remove the tiny green sprout that is inside the cloves. I just use the tip of a knife to remove it. Why do I bother? This sprout can sometimes add a slight bitter taste to the garlic, especially if you are using it raw. There is some debate over this, but I’ve done it for ages, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! These cloves didn’t have very big or green sprouts as they were extremely fresh.

Blend Step 1: Basil and Pine Nuts

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Add the basil and pine nuts into the food processor and pulse 10 to 20 times, scraping down sides with a spatula a few times, until coarsely chopped, like this:

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Blend Step 2: Cheese and Garlic Cloves

Add the cheese and garlic cloves to the blender and pulse, scraping down sides with a spatula a few times, until finely chopped, like this:

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Blend Step 3: Drizzle in EVOO

Turn the food processor on and slowly drizzle in the olive oil, scraping down sides with a spatula a few times. How long you let the food processor run (and how much olive oil you drizzle in) depends on if you want a smooth or chunky pesto. I like mine somewhere in between, like this (I used a 1/2 cup of EVOO):

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Fun Fact! I tripled this recipe … and ended up with just under 4 cups of pesto!

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Storing and Freezing Pesto

If you’re not going to use the pesto right away, it should keep in the fridge for a few weeks. It can brown pretty easily though, so you have to create an airtight seal by either drizzling some olive oil over the top of the pesto, or covering it with plastic wrap (or both), laying the plastic wrap so that it comes in full contact with the pesto before sealing the jar/container.

Since basil and pesto are among my favourite things, I like to make as much pesto as I can when local fresh basil is available. What I don’t use right away, I freeze. I use either ice cube trays or muffin tins to freeze the pesto into ‘serving-sized’ portions. In order to prevent staining (especially if you are using plastic ice cube trays) and to make for no-fuss removal, I line the trays/muffin tins with sheets of plastic wrap like this, pushing the wrap into the holes of the tray/tin:

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Then I spoon in the pesto like this:

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Then I cover it all up with plastic wrap and put it in the freezer like this:

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Once it is frozen solid, I pop the frozen basil ‘cubes’ out, put them in a freezer bag, label and date the bag, and toss it back in the freezer, like this:

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I’m looking forward to enjoying the garden-freshness of homemade pesto for months to come!

I hope you will too!

 

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