I returned home from a two week vacation. It had rained a lot while I was gone and I knew that my garden beds and grass would be overrun with weeds. My herb plants looked healthy but overgrown. My lemon balm was overtaking its corner of the garden bed. My poor chive plants were unfortunately dwarfed in the shade. However, my parsley, tarragon, rosemary and basil were thriving in their pots. Time to harvest the first crops.
I love having fresh herbs to pick at whim in my garden. There is also mint, but it grows wild in the back corner and I pick that when necessary, sometimes for a recipe but mostly to enhance water with a touch of colour and flavour in a water jug. Lemon balm makes a nice herb tea. Chives are chopped and sprinkled on salads, main courses, and vegetables. However today, I wanted to make pesto. The word pesto comes from the Italian word pestare, meaning to crush, originally with a mortar and pestle. It is typically made of basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. This time of year, if you don’t have basil in your garden, you should be able to pick up a big bunch at a produce market or farmer’s market. I use the proportions of the basil and nuts in my basic recipe but vary both the herb and nut according to what I am having for dinner and what I have in the pantry. This time I used almonds instead of the pine nuts, and added a handful of parsley with the basil leaves; my basil and parley together made up the two packed cups. First step is to crush the garlic or chop it finely in the food processor. Then add the basil and parsley and finely chop. Add the nuts and chop, then slowly pour in the olive oil until it’s a smoother consistency; it doesn’t need to be pureed; I like the bits of chopped green; this is your choice. I rarely put the freshly grated Parmesan cheese in the mixture at this point. Pesto freezes well and this is the stage I freeze it when not using immediately or within a couple days; you can also store it in a tightly sealed jar in the fridge. It is my choice later to add cheese or not, depending on what I am serving.
Not only do you eat with your sense of taste, you also eat with your sight and smell as well. I love the aroma of basil picked fresh so the enhanced aroma mixed with garlic, almonds and freshly grated cheese just makes the simple pesto all the better. This time I used one 375 gram box of whole wheat penne but use your favourite pasta shape. I will give you the traditional recipe and give you some ideas for various adaptations.
2 cups of packed basil leaves
2-3 garlic cloves (use 3 if they are small)
1/2 cup of pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper
- Chop the garlic cloves in a food processor. Add the basil leaves and chop finely. Add the pine nuts and chop finely.
- Pour in the olive oil and process until it is as smooth a consistency as desired.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Blend in the grated cheese.
Freeze in meal-sized portions at this stage or warm up to add to pasta. You can freeze without adding the cheese and add later if needed for the meal. Variations: 1. Instead of all basil, I have used some parsley or all parsley. I have made pesto with garlic scapes, spinach, coriander or Thai basil. 2. Instead of pine nuts, try almonds, walnuts, cashews, or even pistachios. 3. Pair the green with the nut…for example, if using on an Asian noodle, Thai basil with cashews is a nice combination. Coriander pesto is nice with pistachios. I have made pesto with garlic scapes but you do not need to add additional garlic! Happy cooking.