By: Terry Harris | Email: Click Here
Posted: August 3, 2019 | 8:05 a.m.
From the first time I tried it, Fresh Basil Pesto has been one of my favorite things! It’s delicious, it’s easy to prepare, and it requires very few ingredients – three more of my favorite things! It’s also versatile, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Here’s the deal. I love the aroma and flavor of fresh basil so much that every year, I plant wayyyyy too much. I can’t stand to see it go to waste, so I’ve discovered that if I whip up and freeze a bunch of it in fresh pesto, it’s a great way to have all that fresh, green, summertime goodness right at hand to “bring back” the “feel” of summer on a cold, dark, winter day.
If you’re not familiar with basil pesto, or pesto alla genovese, basically, it’s a beautiful, green, garlicky sauce that originated in Italy. Originally it was made with a mortar and pestle, but modern women (at least this one!) make it with a food processor. Traditionally, it’s made with garlic, pine nuts, salt, basil leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and extra-virgin olive oil. But it’s becoming more and more popular in the U.S. to substitute walnuts for the pine nuts. (You can use almonds or pecans, too.) I like to use walnuts because I usually have those in the house, and pine nuts can be pretty expensive.
You definitely want to use only top quality ingredients to make pesto – like a really good extra virgin olive oil. A serving, usually on pasta, is only a couple of tablespoons, so it goes a long way, and you’ll be able to taste the difference if you go for the cheaper brands on this sauce. And if you can get it – and your budget extends that far – you’ll want to try and use real imported Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy. Yes, it’s delicious even with domestic Parmesan, and I wouldn’t hesitate to do that just for myself. But if you’re serving a real foodie, they’ll know the difference.
Preparation is simplicity itself. Just pulse the walnuts and garlic in your food processor until they’re coarsely chopped. Then add the fresh basil leaves – more than you think you’ll need. Add your salt and peppr and pulse again until everything is finely chopped. Then, while your food processor is running, pour in a small, steady stream of your olive oil through the feed tube. Finally, add your cheese and process again until it’s smooth. That’s it! You can make up a whole batch in less than 10 minutes.
THEN the fun begins. First, cover any of the sauce that you don’t use immediately with a thin layer of olive oil (to seal out air and prevent oxidizing – which turns it brown) in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container. You can store it that way in the fridge for about a week. You can also freeze it for up to 6 months in an air-tight container. I like to pour it into pint bags, making a layer about a quarter of an inch thick, and squeeze out all the air. Then I just freeze them flat and they stack beautifully, all ready for taking out and thawing and adding to my favorite pasta. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and and then take the fozen cubes to add to soups, pasta dishes, potatoes, eggs – anything you like!
And that leads me to the best part. Pesto is so versatile that there’s no need to think of it as “just a pasta sauce” – although it really is delicious on any pasta, hot or cold. No, siree, here are just a few things you can try. You can spread it on sandwiches for a nice, fresh taste any time. Mix some up with softened cream cheese, sour cream, cottage cheese, yogurt, or guacamole for a truly delicious dip. It’s great drizzled over your eggs – any style – for breakfast. For a fancy appetizer, serve it over baked brie. Drizzle pesto over your favorite breakfast eggs to add a delicious, savory touch of herbs and cheese. Add an entirely different flavor to your pizzas by substituting a little pesto for tomato sauce. For a perfect “one up” on garlic bread, spread some of your pesto on toast or crusty bread or stir it into your dough when making rolls – or just mix it with softened butter to spread on hot bread.
It’s absolutely delicious stirred into rice, grain, or chicken salads, and by adding just a little more oil or a bit of vinegar – or whisking it into some buttermilk – you can make a homemade vinagerette or Italian ranch dressing for your salads. Use it instead of butter to garnish a soup or vegetables – especially baked potatoes – and you can use it instead of a marinade for fish, chicken grilled steak, pork chops or in meatloaf or meatballs.
Best of all – at least to me – smear a bit (or a lot!) on a slice of crusty bread, top it with a slice of mozzarella, and serve it toasted – or as is – for a truly fabulous bruschetta. Oh! And if you like garlic, but in moderation – or you love garlic so much you’d eat it on ice cream – it won’t hurt the recipe a bit to increase or decrease the amount of garlic in it. As with so many things in the kitchen, it’s really best if you make it “your own.”
And there you have it! With a little imagination, your pesto will provide you with a wonderful, easy to prepare, sauce or spread or pretty much whatever you want it to be! Enjoy!
Fresh Basil Pesto
- Takes 15 minutes, makes about 1-1/4 cups (about 10 servings)
- 1/3 cup walnuts
- 2 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 cups gently packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, best quality
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (Ideally, real Parmigiano-Reggiano)
Coarsely chop walnuts and garlic with a steel blade in your food processor. Add fresh basil leaves, salt, and pepper and process about a minute. Then, with processor still running, slowly pour olive oil through feed tube until all is thoroughly blended. Add the Parmesan and process about a minute longer, until smooth. Use immediately or store up to a week in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil, or freeze.