If the original creator of pesto was still alive, it would be on my bucket list to find them and give them a long, garlicky kiss of thanks. I owe the quality of my gastronomic life to that person.
Now, there’s a catch to this love affair I have with pesto. It should go without saying that not all pesto is created equal. I’m not talking about variations using spinach or walnuts, instead I’m referring to the use of any oil that isn’t extra virgin olive oil. If you have purchased pesto made with some other inferior oil (and if it’s something other than extra virgin olive oil it is automatically inferior), you don’t have pesto. You have crap-sto. Don’t eat crap-sto, eat pesto. This is easy to do if you make your own.
I just happened to have a whole lot of basil in the garden that was needing to be trimmed back to remove the flowers. Doing this keeps the plant going longer, which means even more fresh leaves. I had a combination of purple basil (which makes a lovely jelly, by the way) and sweet basil, both have similar flavors, so my pesto came out a little darker in color than if I had used only sweet basil. If you use fresh basil from the market, it will likely be the green sweet basil and your pesto will have a greener color as a result.
Basil Pesto Recipe
- 2 c. firmly packed fresh basil leaves (any variety, though sweet basil is traditional)
- 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 4-5 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
- 1/3 c. pine nuts (pignolia)
- 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese (yes, the stuff in the green can is fine)
- salt, to taste
The best tool to use for this is a food processor, though a blender will work, as well. Or go really “old school” and use a mortar and pestle, but you’ll be working for a while. Put the leaves in the processor and with the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Continue to process for just a little while until the leaves have been finely minced.
Add the garlic and the pine nuts and process again until the pesto is fairly smooth. Add the parmesan and briefly process until mixed in. You don’t want to mix too long at any stage or the pesto will start to get too warm and the parmesan will begin to melt.
Store your pesto in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator for at least an hour to give the flavors a chance to mingle. Stir and taste to see if any additional salt is desired, but remember that the parmesan cheese has quite a bit already. Your pesto can be used as a spread, or put a hefty scoop on cooked pasta and mix in. It will last for a while in the refrigerator, or can be frozen in smaller batches for later use. By the way, it is normal for pesto to darken, especially on the surface. This is due to oxidation just like the browning on certain types of fruits and vegetables and is not harmful in any way. Just stir it all up and lick the spoon when you’re done.