Our apartment is just in front of a fun little Saturday morning farmer’s market. I love waking up on Saturday, sticking jeans and a sunhat over my PJs, and walking down the hill with assorted totebags thrown over my shoulder. Last week, I came home with many lovely finds: purple broccoli, cauliflower, swiss chard, salad greens, fresh ricotta, shallots, onions and sweet potatoes. (More on the results of these later…)
Among the abundant beauties, my favorite were these bouquets of basil. Oh sure, I have my own on the windowsill, but my example of a flourishing plant has merely 7 leaves. Not enough for six cups of pesto…
Aren’t these exquisite? Pesto freezes and stores so well, why not make a lot? I made my first huge batch so I would have ample to share and store.
I make up my pesto by the basic premise of nuts, garlic, greens, cheese, oil, and seasonings. Traditionally, this Italian sauce insists upon pine nuts and basil, but (as you may have read here before), I enjoy experimenting with various nuts and greens.
Pine nuts (also known by their more fun name, pignolias) have a nice flavor when toasted, but I don’t prefer their bitter aftertaste. I have a theory, however, that the pignolias I have purchased may not be fresh—nuts turn rancid easily, which is why I now dedicate an entire refrigerator drawer to my personal assortment. As with my arugula pesto, I love walnuts. Beyond their toasted flavor, they are a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids to this vegetarian. (Still applicable to the rest of you, as monounsaturated fats help total cholesterol when enjoyed more frequently than saturated fats).
I was excited to make a large batch of walnut pesto when, to my dismay, I realized I was out of walnuts. (It turns out they were hiding in the recesses of the freezer). Well, almonds are, after all, my second nut of choice and how handy I had an entire bag of them.
I toasted half a cup of whole almonds in a dry skillet for about 10 minutes. Since these were whole and unpeeled, I really wanted to ensure they toasted through. How can you tell? Keep your [nut of choice] on a low heat, shaking the pan occasionally until fragrant. With pine nuts or hazelnuts, it is easy to see when they are browning slightly. In this case, the color was no indication, so I tasted one. Toasted almonds (as with other varieties) have a more crisp and intense flavor—toasting also turns down that bitter and sour flavor you may note with raw nuts.
Toast nuts you will be using (whether for salad or in a recipe) in close proximity to their use. A few days in advance, with refrigeration, is fine. But it’s helpful to know that pre-toasted nuts (labeled so on a store-bought bag), or toasted nuts stored at room temperature for an extended period, really lose their flavor. In a medium skillet, you can toast nuts in just 2-3 minutes—since it doesn’t dirty the pan that badly, why not just toast them on the stove while you’re prepping other things?
And while we’re covering some basics, let’s talk about fresh garlic for a moment. If you’ve got garlic salt/powder in your dark/unused cabinet, consider replacing it with some fresh cloves. Like potatoes, they’ll keep in the dark for a while—but do not keep potatoes and garlic in the same cabinet, they’ll ruin the other.
I want to note the green sprouts in the photo of these peeled cloves. “Going Green” may be trendy in a variety of settings, but not when it comes to garlic. You’ll see in the clove on the bottom left that I have simply pulled it out of the clove. That green middle doesn’t mean your garlic is inedible. However, that green sprout is not a preferred flavor, and some say it does not digest well. It’s worth giving your garlic a quick once-over and plucking out any green sprout before using it.
Five garlic cloves sounds like a lot, but in the end my pesto needed even more kick. I suggest seven cloves (for still subtle garlic flavor) when you’re working with 6 cups of basil and a lots of oil.
Combine your toasted almonds/walnuts/pine nuts or nut mixture (anything is possible!) in a food processor with the garlic.
If you don’t have an 8-cup measuring thingamajig, seriously consider one. You can do so much in it and save yourself a counterful of one-cup measuring glasses and bowls and cups. Anyhow, my 8-cup pyrex was a handy way to measure my well-washed basil. I used about 6 packed cups of basil for this recipe. As I enjoy smooth pesto, I would use less nuts/more basil next time for a less chunky consistency.
This looks like a lot of salt. Kosher salt, however, is much lighter in weight than other salts—you need more for flavor. Remember, a little pesto goes a long way in any dish (and will be “diluted” with olive oil), so your sodium intake per serving is significantly less than store-bought sauce. If you don’t have Kosher salt, I recommend half the amount of sea salt. Both of these salts have a dramatically different taste than table salt (no metallic flavor). Once you switch, you’ll never go back.
If you’re using kosher salt, 1 tsp. is just right for this amount of pesto, along with 1 tsp. of black pepper. If using sea salt or other salt, start with about half the amount and add if you taste the need.
To your nut-garlic mixture, add the fresh basil, salt and pepper. With the blade running, add a light, steady stream of olive oil. Start with 1 cup, adding gradually, noting the consistency. When everything is pureed, add 3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan.
A cheesy note: Blocks of parmesan have a significantly longer fridge-life than pre-grated parmesan from the deli. And I’m not talking about grated parmesan in a green shaker. We don’t talk about those kind. (Check out the ingredient list. If you want to eat cheese, you’re going to need the real thing.) You can grate the amount of parmesan you need with a grater, or in your food processor before beginning the pesto. Wrap up the remaining block in wax paper (not plastic wrap, as it affects the flavor and freshness) and store in the crisper.
I only had a small block of parmesan in the fridge when I made my Big Batch of Pesto. 1/2 cup was decent, but more would have been fantastic. If you want to reduce the saturated fat in this recipe (remember that delicious olive oil is a monounsaturated fat—not the artery-clogging kind), you can certainly add cheese to your discretion.
Once you add the cheese, puree for about a minute. Taste and see if it needs any more cheese, pepper, or even lemon juice for flavor.
For the amount you’re not delving into this minute, you can freeze portions in ice-cube trays or small containers. Whether you store it in the fridge for a few days (about a week, max) or in the freezer for a few months, cover the top of each portion with a thin layer of olive oil before sealing well.
What to do with this scrumptious basil pesto?
Personally, I love cold pesto with cold pasta. I fill up quicker on hot pasta, maybe I can enjoy more when it’s cold! You could enjoy it with a bowl of whole-wheat spaghetti and a dollop of fresh farm ricotta. Mmmmmmm
Let see, if that’s too boring (or you’re getting sick of pesto + pasta by Day 4), you could put some in that jar you’re been meaning to reuse, wrap a ribbon around it and drop some off to a friend or two.
So do enjoy your pesto with some chopped tomatoes, a little red onion, and parmesan over toasted baguette. Both the related and random guests at your friend’s house will so appreciate your efforts.
And they’ll love that it’s from you ♥