A couple of weeks ago I missed out on fresh basil at the farmers market. I knew I should have gone earlier in the day, but alas, I didn’t. So I asked Ryan of the Dirt Rich Farm to please bring me lots of basil the following week. His basil is incredible!
Anyway, I wanted to have enough basil to make a few different variations of pesto, and freeze it for use during the winter. It’s handy to have in the freezer to use in all kinds of dishes during winter.
There are two ways I make pesto, either using raw fresh basil leaves, or blanching the basil leaves for just a few seconds in boiling water. The advantage of blanching is that the basil becomes less pungent and by blanching you set the color, which means the pesto will not turn brown after it is made.
To blanch the basil, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the basil or other herbs in for 10 to 15 seconds. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the wilted basil quickly and directly into a bowl filled with ice water. Let the herbs cool, then drain them well and squeeze out as much water as possible. Put the leaves into the bowl of a food processor and proceed with the recipe.
Be sure to not over-cook the basil. I always place the ice water right next to the stove. You want the herbs to stay bright green.
To change the pesto up every so often, use different combinations of herbs, nuts and cheese. If you can’t or don’t eat cheese, just leave it out or use some nutritional yeast flakes. They are quite tasty and give the pesto a bit of a “cheesy” flavor.
Here are some of my favorite takes on pesto:
- The old Italian standby: basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan
- Greek pesto: basil, a little fresh oregano, garlic, pistachios and Myzithra cheese
- Asian style pesto: basil, fresh cilantro, fresh mint, a little ginger, hot chile pepper, peanuts, and toasted peanut oil
- Parsley pesto: parsley, almonds, garlic, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some toasted almond oil
Here is the basic recipe:
- 3 to 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves or a mixture of herbs of your choice, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup lightly toasted nuts
- 2 to 4 cloves of fresh or roasted garlic
- 1/2 cup grated cheese or nutritional yeast flakes (vegan)
- good quality oil, like olive, avocado, walnut etc.
- a little sea salt
- a few grindings of black pepper
If you are going to blanch the basil, do that first.
Place basil, nuts, garlic and a pinch of salt into the bowl of a food processor.
Pulse until finely chopped.
You might have to scrape the sides of the bowl down.
Slowly add oil to the running food processor until the pesto is thick or thin enough to your liking.
Add the cheese or nutritional yeast and combine.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
With all that wonderful basil I got from Ryan, I was able to make lots of extra pesto and fill several ice cube trays and small freezer containers with pesto for the freezing. Once the pesto cubes were frozen solid I transferred them into freezer bags. Now I won’t have to buy any pesto for a long while, which not only saves money, but also tastes so much better and contains only the ingredients I put into it.
Pesto is a versatile condiment! Try it on pizza, in a vegetable soup, or on a roasted fingerling potato and vegetable bowl! It is however, also a favorite with spaghetti around here!