Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Easy Basil Pesto

If your knees aren't green by the end of the day, you ought to seriously re-examine your life. – Bill Watterson 

The time is upon us for basil to start making appearances at local farmers markets, or if you’re like us, in your garden.

What does that mean? It’s pesto time!

Usually enough basil to make pesto will cost you an arm and a leg. But when it starts becoming plentiful in mid summer the price drops quite a lot. I haven’t found this true at chain grocery stores, but have at local sellers.

Our basil has about another week or so before I should really get in there and shear it, and I can’t wait. Pesto is unbelievably versatile.

We had a bit of a basil setback this year in our garden. In mid May we purchased basil plant sets. We intended to grow them as companions with the tomatoes. Apparently the basil somehow enhances their flavour.

Unfortunately the weather had other ideas in mind and a few cool evenings finished every last one of them off. Lesson learned.

So when mid June arrived we planted seed. They were a little slow to start, but have now taken off. I may very well have to make and freeze pesto for use later. Such is life...sigh.

Loosely speaking, pesto is basically ground up greens with nuts, cheese and olive oil. The most common, of course, is basil.

Pesto originated in Genoa in northern Italy. The name comes from the Genoese word pestâ, which means to pound or crush, in reference to the original method of preparation with a mortar and pestle. In fact our English word “pestle” has the same Latin root.

Basil was probably first grown for food in India, but it soon made its way to Italy and provence in the south of France.

The earliest written recipe for pesto as it is known today is in La Cuciniera Genovese from 1863. In Provence it dish evolved into the modern pistou. Pistou does not contain nuts, but does include parsley.

This is kale pesto. The kale has enough "bite" to work.
I have actually made several pestos that contain no basil at all. In the spring I made a dandelion pesto and in late winter a kale version. Both were exceptionally good.

Since basil prices will be affordable here very soon, the only other ingredient to stand in your way in making pesto is pine nuts. 

The best place to purchase them is at a bulk food store. They will still be expensive, but at least you’ll be purchasing only what you need. So if you can hold your gag reflex when you buy them you’re on your way.

You can substitute other nuts in basil pesto. I have used walnuts and almonds on some of my recipes that don’t have basil. 

But my favourite is still basil and pine nut pesto. Marcella Hazan has an amazing recipe using pesto that you won’t believe. It’s in her book The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Basically it’s spaghetti, potatoes and green beans tossed in pesto. Utterly jaw droppingly delicious.

So if you do run across arm loads of pesto when you’re out at a farmers market, pick some up. Homemade pesto is one of those recipes that I always try to make at least once to celebrate nature’s bounty. It's summer, in sauce form.

Easy Basil Pesto
Time: 5 min  |  Yield: 500 ml
1 cup pine nuts, slivered
6 garlic cloves
3 cups basil, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil, more or less
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Place the pine nuts and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until well ground.

Chop the basil and add to the bowl. Process until incorporated. While this is happening, with the motor running, slowly add the olive oil. 

You are looking for a firm mixture but one that moves easily in the bowl. This may take more than 1/2 cup olive oil.

Remove the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the parmesan, salt and pepper. Stir until incorporated.

You can add the parmesan in the processor bowl, but I like the consistency of the broken grated cheese when just stirred in.


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