How-To: Fresh Basil Pesto
One of my all time favorite pasta dishes (besides my Mom’s carbonara) is my grandmother’s pasta with homemade pesto. OMG! This stuff is amazing. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Bright green, garlicky, cheesey, nutty and SO SO packed with basil flavor. It’s like a summer party in your mouth. I’d kill to be sitting at her big round kitchen table stuffing my face with a big bowl of pesto pasta!
Unfortunately, I’m not in NJ enjoying copious amounts of neon green pesto coated pasta. I’m actually sitting here on the couch, half writing this post and half studying for my RD exam. However, I planned ahead this weekend and bought a ton of basil at the farmer’s market (super cheap in the summer by the way) and whipped up a batch of pesto for Dario and I. I can’t wait to use it. Pesto makes just about any food better – pasta, a spread for panini sandwiches, baked on top of salmon, made into a salad dressing or even slathered on my morning egg sandwich. All very awesome.
My pesto recipe is really quite simple. It’s basically a quick spin in the food processor of a few ingredients and voila! Pesto. Fresh and homemade right in your own kitchen. But…there have been a few mistakes on my end…like not washing my basil and ending up with really sandy pesto. Not good. That was actually painful. So don’t do that. In addition, here are a few other tricks and tips that will help ensure you end up with the most delicious pesto of your life!
- Use top quality ingredients. Since pesto is an uncooked or raw sauce, the quality of your ingredients really matters – the flavors of your ingredients will really stand out. In particular, I’m referring to the olive oil and parmesan cheese in this recipe. You don’t have to buy the most expensive olive oil, but purchase one with a good fruity flavor – usually extra virgin cold pressed oil. In addition, get REAL parmesan cheese. Please do not make this recipe with the “cheese” from that green can. That would just be bad…really really bad.
- Wash up. I know I mentioned this earlier, but even if your basil looks clean, still give it a quick wash and dry-off in your salad spinner or laid out on paper towels. Basil tends to get really sandy and hold on to a good amount of grit so beware!
- Roasty, toasty nuts. Make sure you toast your pine nuts (you can also use walnuts if the pine nuts are too expensive or unavailable). It really gives your pesto an added edge and nutty, buttery flavor. I’ve made my pesto without toasting the nuts and it was just kinda blah. It only takes a few seconds, and it’s well worth the effort.
- Taste frequently. Although I give you a recipe with specific ingredients below, it’s important to stop and taste your pesto during each step. You might like a little more garlic or a thicker consistency. Or maybe you like a lot of lemon flavor shining through. Whatever your fancy, go with it! Making pesto isn’t really about measuring as it is about frequent tastings!
- Make extra! I know some people say it’s better to make small batches, but basil is only fresh and cheap in the summer. I always make several batches and freeze it for Fall and Winter. It’s so awesome to be able to pull out some fresh homemade basil on a busy winter night. I can’t even tell you how happy that makes me! Try freezing it in ice cube trays (then transfer to freezer safe bag or container) for perfectly portioned chunks!
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 small clove of garlic
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups semi packed basil
- In a small saucepan add in the pine nuts and heat over medium heat. Toast for about 1 minute or until nuts are fragrant just slightly golden brown.
- In the bowl of a food processor add in the pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese and lemon juice. Pulse a few times or until garlic and pine nuts are finely ground.
- Switch of food processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- Add in the basil, salt and pepper and turn on food processor. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil – stopping frequently to scrape down the sides of the bowl, check for consistency and taste test.
- Store pesto in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. You can always freeze pesto for up to 6 months.
What are your pesto making tips? Do you freeze it for winter months? What’s your favorite dish to use pesto with?