Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pesto, a little cube of heaven

OK, Bryallen, this one's for you.  Nicoleandmaggie posted about pesto heaven as well, so check their post out.

As I had mentioned a while ago, herbs were sort of my gateway drug into gardening.  They are easy to grow, easy to use, and unlike some vegetables they don't tend to die of blight or aphids (though some, such as parsely and cilantro fall victim to rabbits).  One of my favorite herbs is basil.  I love the way it smells, I love how it grows so quickly, and I love how in order to have full and healthy plants you need to trim them and take off leaves.  Basically, with herbs you have to cut them and trim them for them to grow well, so you're constantly using them.

Now, I am happy to have, say, fresh tomatoes with some torn basil leaves and olive oil as a refreshing snack or salad (or breakfast because yes, I am weird).  But with all of the basil I plant (which by the way is a lot between my parent's garden, my plot at work, and my plot in my town) I have to figure out how to use this stuff or store it.

You can freeze basil, and as long as you don't need it as a pretty garnish it will serve you well.  You can chop it up and add it to sauces if you want the taste of fresh basil (dried basil is also delicous but it has a very different taste; some recipes specifically call for one or the other for good reason).  You can also make pesto.

I first discovered pesto when I was living in England for my college year abroad.  At the time, I despised tomato sauce and wouldn't touch it (I also despised garlic, cheese, and many other foods that make life worth living).  I outgrew most of my pickiness this year.

When I tried pesto for the first time, I almost passed out from the joy.  Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration but not too much of one.  It was this rich, sweet yet pungent and nutty combination of taste bud heaven.  Also, it was something to put on my pasta besides butter and/or olive oil since I was not yet a fan of tomato sauce. 

Once I started to grow my own basil I learned the various ways I could store it and enjoy it during the fall, winter and spring months.  Pesto is my favorite way to do this.

I basically take a bunch of leaves--probably a couple of cups--and place them with, oh about 1/4 cup of pine nuts or walnuts (unless you have a nut allergy or you're allergic to the very high prices of pine nuts and the slightly less high prices of walnuts) and one or two cloves of garlic (depending on how garlicky you like it) into my food processor.  I blend these things with about a 1/4 cup of olive oil.  I stop the processor every so often to make sure the nuts and leaves are getting blended well--I'll push in some that get stuck to the sides of the bowl.  I'll also add more oil if it looks like the mixture could use it.  Basically, you want a green paste.

Don't put these in a drink.
I take this delicous green paste and put it in ice cube trays and freeze them.  The next day, I pop these out into a resealable freezer bag.  By the end of the summer I have so much pesto that I can't imagine eating all of it.  Well, guess what? I manage it.  I either eat it with pasta alone, throw it into a tomato sauce that I'm simmering (oh, yes, I love tomato sauce now) use it as a spread, mix it with mayonaise and use that as a spread, or flavor a vegetable soup or a salad dressing with it.  It's very versatile.  If I want to use it, I take a cube, place it in a mug, drizzle a little olive oil on it, and heat it in the microwave for a minute.

If you cannot grow basil for whatever reason (and believe you me, I couldn't for a long time) then you can do the ice cube tray trick if you buy a large container of pesto sauce.  You probably won't use that in the time that it will be good so you can freeze the remainder in ice cube trays.

You can make pesto from any herb--cilantro, parsley, mint, sage. . .if it's leafy you can make it into pesto.  I've read that you can also make pestos from leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards, etc., though I've never tried this.  You can leave out the nuts or garlic (or use shallots instead of garlic).  It's a great way to store and enjoy herbs and retain their original flavor.


  1. YESSSSS! Thanks so much! Love it! Now I just need to find somewhere that sells pine nuts. I'll have a look in the supermarket later and let you know how my first attempt goes! (I currently have some baby basil plants growing away on the windowsill, so yaaaay!)

  2. Try walnuts if you can't find pine nuts--that's what I used this year because pine nuts were *way* too expensive.

  3. Great pesto suggestions, Pam!

    I toast the nuts first for a more nutty flavor. I also have moved on from pine nuts becasause of both the exorbitant cost and the scare of last year. Walnuts are fine! i also like parmesan cheese in my pesto.

  4. We lurv pesto! We call it green gold in our house! Angela

  5. Found some pine nuts - £2.50 for a little bag of them in Asda. Still, not that much different to a jar of pesto and the rest of the ingredients are free or nearly free! :)

    Trying to make it tomorrow! :)