It’s the week of quick posts, people. I would hate for you to have to wait for practical tips on things, like how to make individually-sized Guinness chocolate cake in muffin tins. Or how to make enough pesto to feed the population of China, which is what I did yesterday. My garden has had its ups and downs this spring and summer, but the basil crop? Stellar the entire season. It has proliferated all over the place, even in the unbearable midsummer heat and subsequent drought, and I’ve made caprese salad after marinara trying to use it up. I’m proud to say that none of it has gone to waste, but it’s taken some work to keep it under control. When i saw on the news that a pretty snappy cold front was coming in today, I knew something had to be done with the rest of my beloved herb.
Yesterday, I made a gajillion batches of freezer-bound pesto. Now you can too.
I know some of you are still living in warmer climates, but it’s going to be cold soon, and you can’t waste perfectly lovely basil. It’s cruel. The recipe for the pesto is my own, and I think it’s a pretty versatile one. It’s garlicky, but in a very background and unsharp way, and I’ve found (by trial and some pretty gross error) a delightful balance of herb to walnut flavor. And yes, I use walnuts; they’re cheaper to get than pine nuts, and when I’m freezing pesto, walnuts seem to hold up better. Feel free to make this pine nuts if you wish; when I do, I substitute them using the same measurements.
You’ll also notice the lack of parmesan cheese in this recipe. Taking the parmesan out of the equation makes this recipe better for several reasons. First, it’s cheaper; good parmesan can be pricey. Second, it’s less work; fresh grated always works best, but who wants to grate ten thousand cups of parmesan? Not me. Third, it freezes so much better if you leave the cheese out of it. Cheese doesn’t freeze well, and there’s a weird textural quality to a thawed pesto that has cheese added to it.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it allows your pesto to be a little more versatile. Drape it over pasta with a little parm over top? Great. making pesto lasagna (like I will for you, in the coming weeks)? Perfect; you don’t have to worry about cheese control on an already-cheesy dish. Throwing this on a sandwich? it’s much more saucy and much less pasty sans parmesan.
I have only one rule here, because even the measurements on this one will be guidelines, and I want you to tailor it to how you like it: Use quality ingredients. You’re working with a gorgeous herb here that’s packed with flavor, and you don’t want to kill it by drowning it in inferior olive oil, bad garlic, rancid walnuts or that weird powdery pepper you can buy. Who uses that anyway? Disposable pepper and sea salt grinders are everywhere, and they cost next to nothing; avail yourself of them. Make sure your garlic is fresh – it should feel heavy for its size and look smooth and tight on the outside – and don’t buy off-brand or ‘clearance’ walnuts, for heavens’ sake. Your finished pesto will be so much more than the sum of its parts, so do not skimp.
And about the olive oil; most of you probably have a favorite, if you do a fair amount of cooking. Use one that has an olive flavor to it (no ‘light’ stuff, please) and is of decent quality. Olive oil doesn’t have to cost a fortune to be good; I use Marca Verde Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and get big bottles of it from Sur La Table. It’s very affordable: a 33.8 ounce bottle costs $9.95. I use it for everything and I make a special trip to get it, because it’s my favorite for things like this, and for most everything else. It’s good to have a go-to olive oil; it’s also good when that olive oil can only be found at your favorite kitchen store so you’re ‘forced’ to go there and pick it up.
I hope this pesto saves you lots and lots of time with your leftover garden basil. It’s so easy, the only thing you’ll be doing is shoving everything into a processor, hitting “go,” and drizzling a little olive oil in. So little effort for such a delicious thing, really.
Garden, I’ll miss you: you did a nice job this year, and currently you’re growing what hopefully will be some pretty awesome Brussels sprouts, but we’ll see.
Adapted from countless attempts at making a pesto I truly love. This one hit the mark.
- 3 cups packed basil leaves, washed and dried thoroughly*
- 2 cloves garlic
- 3/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 3/4 to 1 cup good-quality olive oil (depending on how thick you like your pesto; i lean more towards the 3/4 cup mark)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- fresh ground pepper, to taste
*and I am so serious about washing your basil, especially if it’s coming from your garden. I’m sure you realize this, but there could be literally anything on those leaves. Bugs. Dirt. COCOONS. Eggs of bugs. And once they’re ground up in the food processor, then hey, you’re just eating dead ground-up bug eggs. And I know at least one of you has already done that. Wash and dry, people.
Add your garlic and walnuts to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse for a few seconds until ground up slightly. Add your basil and pulse again, pushing it down as needed (basil leaves are light, and some hang around the top and don’t catch right away). When everything is processed, take a spatula or spoon and scrape around the perimeter of the bowl to catch any chunks of walnut around the edges. Pulse again until everything is incorporated.
With the motor running and using a slow, even pouring motion, drizzle your olive oil into the top of the processor. Use as much as you wish; 3/4 cup is usually what I end up going with, which will give you a smooth, non-pasty result. When your pesto has reached the desired consistency, season with salt and pepper to taste.
This keeps in the fridge for a week or so, but freezing it was my goal here. The most practical way to do this is to temporarily commandeer an ice cube tray and pour the pesto in, using either a squeezie bag to shoot it into the cavities, or a spoon. Use a small spatula to even out the tops prior to freezing. I do this in batches, because there’s no need to rush; store the pesto-in-waiting tightly covered in your refrigerator while you freeze batches of it. Place in freezer storage bags when finished with your cubes.