In Season: Basil Pesto!

Pesto!

It has been a good year for green beans, tomatoes, cabbage,and basil. I grew three varieties of basil this year: lemon, purple opal (this variety made my basil a little darker this year), and sweet. I nipped the first sets of leaves for drying and cooking with fresh. This final harvest has been for pesto!

I’ve  spent the last couple of days harvesting leaves and pulling plants that have flowered and gone to seed. Nipping off the tips of the main stem and side shoots encourages new growth. I will probably get another small harvest of leaves before frost kills the tender plants. Just  enough to sprinkle over the last tomatoes.

I make pesto in my big food processor. Stripping the leaves from the plants and grating the cheese takes up most of the prep times for this recipe.

Pesto

5 garlic cloves

¼ cup pine nuts (or any type of tree nut)

4 cups basil leaves, packed

A few pinches of salt

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ to ¾ cup virgin olive oil

Pack all ingredients into a large food processor and pulse until ingredients are combined and chopped fine. Stop every once in a while to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Start out by using a ½ cup of olive oil and add more if you wish. Use fresh cheese–not the stuff that comes in a can which is gross and way too salty.

Many years ago I began using pecans rather than pine nuts in my pesto. I liked the mellower taste, and it is much cheaper! Growing your own basil and making your own pesto is a cost saving measure—have you ever priced those ridiculous little jars of pesto in the grocery store? Be sure to hold on to something so you don’t fall down!

I freeze my pesto flat in quart-size freezer bags. I flatten and push the pesto toward the opening of the bag, evacuating all the air before closing the zip lock. Pesto keeps well in the deep freeze and will last a couple of years if kept frozen. I use it by taking a bag from the freezer, peeling the bag back from the frozen pesto, snapping off as big a piece as is needed, and resealing the bag and returning the remaining still-frozen contents to the freezer.

I use pesto in a variety of ways:

  • Pesto adds great flavor and richness to my pasta sauce. I add it just before serving. Basil’s volatile oils cook away at high temperatures, so I add it near the end of the cooking time in dishes that simmer for long periods.
  • Another favorite way to use pesto is spread on pizza, either as the base sauce or with a red sauce and toppings.
  • Pesto is great in cold or hot pasta side dishes. I like to grate fresh grana or Parmesan cheese over the top of each serving.
  • Pesto also makes a great main flavor ingredient in salad dressings.
  • My daughter likes to spread it on sandwiches, and I’ve used it in roll ups with cream cheese.

If you have a small space to grow food in, it makes good economic sense to grow things that would be the most costly to buy. Potatoes, onions, and carrots taste best from the garden, but they are very cheap to buy, while tomatoes , peppers, greens, herbs, and asparagus are costly and the best use of limited growing space.

Pesto is not a necessity, but it adds a feeling of luxury and plenty to any meal and is especially uplifting in the dead of winter—that taste  of basil is the taste of summer.  Begonia

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