Basil is the king herb in my opinion. Just walking past my little garden and getting a whiff of sweet basil brings a smile and thoughts of the nectar of the herb gods–pesto! Pesto is something you must make at least once in your life. I say make it plenty of times in the summer when it’s fresh out of the garden, freeze it and enjoy for the year, but at least make it once and now is the perfect time.
Buy fresh basil if you don’t have a garden, real Parmesan cheese (not pre grated) and pine nuts (yes, splurge!) and go for it. There is something so cathartic and satisfying about whipping up your own pesto, the essence of many amazing Italian dishes. The flavor is so fresh and if done right, you can taste every ingredient in it-one should not over power the other.
Slather it on a slice of fresh Italian bread, toss it with hot pasta, plop it on top of a piece of grilled chicken, add it to soups, use it as a sandwich spread, etc. And you don’t have to be a whiz bang cook either. Heck, there’s hardly any cooking involved at all. Get out your food processor (or a good ole mortar & pestle) and you’re halfway there.
You can add some purple basil along with the traditional sweet basil. It has that same basil sweetness but just a slight difference in taste. Grab a plant at the store, snip some from your garden, or give a pleading look to a kind neighbor who has a bountiful garden, but make pesto and make a multitude of tasty Italian treats.
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (may loosely chop or leave whole)
- 1 jumbo clove garlic or 2 medium sized (may loosely slice or leave whole)
- 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil, washed, dried and loosely chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil (add a bit more if needed)
- Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- In a dry nonstick skillet, toast pine nuts with garlic (may toast with skin on or removed) for a few minutes, being careful not to burn. Give the skillet a shake to stir and cook until slightly brown.
- Allow both to cool completely. If skin was left on, remove when cooled.
- Add both to a food processor and pulse for 5-8 seconds until incorporated. Don't over do.
- Add in the basil and while pulsing, pour in 1/2 of the olive oil. Pulse for a few seconds. Pour in remainder olive oil and pulse until blended. Add a little more oil if needed.
- Transfer pesto from food processor to a small mixing bowl and pour in cheese. Stir to mix.
- Taste and add salt & pepper to taste.
- Cover tightly and refrigerate. If freezing, freeze without the cheese. Add when ready to serve.
- Make sure not to over pulse, especially on the first step. You don't want the pine nuts and garlic turning to paste. Use hard, parmesan cheese in a wedge or block and grate yourself, not the pre-shredded in a bag. Add plenty of salt depending on how salty the Parmesan is. You can make this without toasting the garlic & pine nuts, but their flavors really come to life. Try it!!