Sweet basil, fragrant, green, versatile. It’s used in Italian cooking as well as Asian. For those who keep a kitchen garden, it’s also easy to grow.
It’s spring. As the air turns sweet with the budding trees and greening grass, thoughts turn to gardening. We’ve lived in this house for 12 years now, and each year Jim plants a garden in a small area of terracing on the south side of the house. His crop always includes tomatoes, and now it has a permanent rhubarb plant. The other items vary. This year he’ll plant pole beans again, as well as hot peppers. For herbs, he’s tried dill, rosemary, peppermint, and basil. Basil, sweet basil. We come back to it, year after year. Reliable, delicious, and apparently not attractive to the deer, it grows easily and prolifically.
And most importantly, we use it. All of it.
A popular use of raw basil leaves is the Caprese salad, simply made from slices of juicy tomato, fresh mozzarella, basil leaves, good olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt and fresh-ground pepper. Some people like a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, as well.
But our favorite use of basil is pesto, what I’ve come to believe is one of the foods of the gods. And because I love it so much, and because I love you so much, I will share the recipe with you.
Basil Pesto Sauce
by Melanie and Jim in IA
Two batches of the recipe below uses the full product of about one basil plant, grown to full-size and likely beginning to flower already. We make it in an 11 cup food processor. If your food processor is smaller, you can do it in smaller batches keeping the proportions the same.
- 1 cup walnuts
- 2 to 4 cloves garlic, or 1 T minced garlic
- Process these on pulse a few times to get them started.
Fill the food processor with washed basil leaves, and add
- 1 cup olive oil
- 3/4 cup grated or slivered Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 T salt
- 1/2 T pepper
Process. Stop once and scrape down the sides, and process until smooth.
Once the pesto is done, spoon it into 3-ounce unwaxed paper cups and freeze it. You’ll have 15-18 paper cups when processing in two batches, each paper cup nearly full. After it’s frozen, we drop them into a 1 gallon zip-top bag and keep in the freezer to use, one scrumptious lump at a time. You may also spoon portions into ice cube trays to freeze.
Curses! The 3-ounce paper cups we’ve always used are Dixie cups, a brand owned by the evil Koch Brothers. Once these cups are gone, we will not buy more. Other people often recommend spooning it into ice cube trays, popping the lumps out of the tray once frozen. That would work, too, but the capacity for each would be less, so you will need to adjust the amount used in recipes.
You may have noticed the recipe uses walnuts rather than pine nuts, the more traditional ingredient. Pine nuts could be substituted, I suppose, but they cost approximately twice as much as walnuts per pound, and we like the walnuts anyway. Another thing you may notice is the consistency. Unlike many jarred pestos you can buy at the store, this is thick and far less oily. In fact, it uses about half the oil you would use if you made pesto from a traditional recipe for immediate use. I LIKE having half the oil, both for how we use it and from a portion-control standpoint.
What Should I Do with the Pesto Lumps?
Now that you have pesto, you’ll love using it! Here are some ways you can use it:
Use one thawed pesto lump as your sauce, instead of red sauce. Top with your favorite toppings, bake and eat! I especially love mushrooms, chopped artichoke hearts, black or kalamata olives, mozzarella, and a little feta on mine.
Boil your pasta (penne, rotini, farfalle, or your favorite) as directed. (Oops! Can’t use Barilla pasta anymore!) Heat one lump of pesto in another pan, loosened with a spoon of pasta water. Top the pasta with the pesto, grate Parmesan cheese on top, and eat!
Pesto Rubbed Roast Chicken
Thaw one lump of pesto, smear most of it under the skin of a whole chicken, and massage the rest onto the chicken. Roast as usual.
Pesto Rubbed Pork Loin Roast
Yep, same as the chicken except you’ll rub it all on top, not under a skin.
Pesto-Marinated Pork Chops or Chicken Breasts
Place meat in a zip-top bag. Thaw a lump of pesto and dump it into the bag. Add a quarter cup of balsamic vinegar. Marinate in refrigerator up to 2 or 3 hours. Cook the meat as usual.
If you need more ideas of how to use it, find 50 things to make with pesto at this foodnetwork site.
How do YOU like to use pesto? Do you have a favorite recipe?