A good fresh pesto is one of those super foods. It can be used in a variety of ways and in a variety of dishes, as a supporting flavor or take center stage, and it is equally delicious hot or cold. I have never been a big pizza fan (don’t hate me!), but I could eat a simple pesto pizza for days. To top it all off, pesto is really not at all difficult to make. If you’re going for authenticity, you may have to sharpen your knife and put in a good movie – there’s quite a bit of chopping involved – but I believe the benefits of fresh ingredients trump any mechanical shortcuts.
For all of pesto’s perks, I never really considered making it at home. Friends and family would supply me with small jars from time to time and if I had cravings I would find a batch at the Co-op or order a dish from a restaurant that made theirs in-house. Then again, I’ve never had three jumbo basil plants bowing under the weight of their own leaves. What else can one do with an overwhelming supply of basil? These weren’t the tasty young leaves most recipes speak of for pesto, but I decided to give it a shot.
Homemade Pesto (influenced by 101 Cookbooks)
~ ¼ lb. of basil (my batch nearly filled my colander)
9 cloves of garlic, minced (strong garlic flavor)
1/3 C EVOO, plus extra as needed
½ C freshly grated parmesan cheese*
¼ C pine nuts, if desired (i didn’t)
* Note: I completely forgot the cheese in my batch! How this is possible, I don’t know. If you’ve read even a few entries in this blog you’ll know I’m a cheese fiend. Anyway, I highly suggest adding the cheese to yours – especially if you’re like me and leave out the traditional pine nuts. You’ll want the extra flavor and there is no salt added to this recipe on the assumption that it will come from the cheese. If you’d like to make your pesto without cheese, please add several pinches of salt to compensate.
- Quick-chop the basil leaves in handfuls and add them to a food processor. In between several handfuls of chopped basil, add a spoonful or two of the minced garlic and grated cheese. If you’re also adding pine nuts and desire only the flavor in a smooth pesto, add scoops of pine nuts with the garlic and cheese. If you’d prefer the visual of whole white pine nuts IN the pesto, hold off on them for now. Repeat the layering procedure until all dry ingredients are in the food processor.
- Add 2 T or so of the EVOO to the dry batch before securing the lid. With the processor on low, pour the remaining oil through the liquid holes in the lid. Add only enough to form the pesto into a soft paste. Use more oil if needed, but go slowly.
- Transfer the finished pesto to a small bowl or storage container. Now, if you’ve saved your whole pine nuts, you can fold them into the prepared pesto.
- Serve pesto with crackers, bread chunks, pita slices, over pasta, in a pizza, on a sandwich, or any other imaginable way! Pesto-parm. pretzels? Mmmm…
I’m not sure whether to call my first pesto-making experience a success or failure, haha. When I first tasted the batch, right out of the food processor, I was crushed: it tasted like grass! Seriously, grass was the first thing that popped into my mind. A friend replied with, “How do you know? Have you ever actually eaten grass?” …no, I suppose I haven’t…at least not anytime in the last 22 years. I could have some ingrained taste-memory from childhood: at 4 years old my mother caught me licking the sidewalk because I thought it smelled good. I’m sure I got a chubby baby fist on some grass at some point. I’m off-topic now though, the point being that my first ever homemade pesto did not taste much like the amazing, make-your-day kind of stuff I’ve had in the past.
I have a few theories as to why this may have been. I used very large, mature leaves which may have not been as flavorful or tender as the young leaves recommended. One of my basil plants is also a Red Rubin variety and may not have had the traditional flavor I’m used to in pesto. I forgot the cheese, which certainly didn’t help – not only did I not have the parmesan flavor, but I also lacked any salt. Finally, I think it just needed to sit for a while. Several days later I used the leftovers in a Lazy Folk’s Pizza and the pesto tasted far better. No matter what caused the initial grassy taste (it was probably a combination of all of the above) I won’t be forgetting the parmesan again!!
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥