Hello July, you sure snuck up on me this year. All the same, welcome and I hope you take your time to leave, because I’m really enjoying the fruits of your visit – flip flop and sunscreen weather, stone fruits, berries, tomatoes and bunches of lush, heady basil. I’m falling in love with this herb all over again after our first workshop of the year, back in cold, wintry February, when Denise tossed generous shreds of it in her roast chicken, avocado and cous cous salad. Amazing. Both the whiff of basil and the salad. If you ask nicely enough I’m sure she’ll share the recipe. Or you could come to one of our workshops where the salad has a permanent spot on our lunch menu. Because it’s that good.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Basil. So fragrant, it’s intoxicating. It’s the Chanel No. 5 of herbs, and thanks to M, it was one of the first herbs I started experimenting with around the time of my culinary awakening. For a long time we had it simply, shredded and tossed in a tomato, mozzarella, avocado salad, a combination that didn’t change for weeks. That’s how in love (or addicted) we were with the trifecta of basil, tomato and mozzarella.
Eventually, it occured to me to venture out the box a little and try something new, so I decided to bring lunch to work one day, featuring homemade pesto spread on toast topped with deli meat. As was customary with my recipe experiments back then, I didn’t bother consulting the Internet or cookbooks, thinking that all I needed was basil, olive oil, salt, pepper and a food processor. Well, let’s just say that the first bite into that sandwich blew all illusions to shreds. My ‘pesto’ was grassy on the palate, gloopy in texture and an unappetizing shade of green, bordering on grey.
Thanks to the counsel of experienced Pesto-makers I quickly learned never to omit the pine nuts and grated parmesan, and add a squeeze of lemon to preserve the green. And I’ve never looked back. The fact that this comes together in just under half an hour has made homemade pesto a mainstay in our pantry. Apart from just eating it out of the jar with a spoon, I like it tossed with pasta and as a sandwich spread. What about you?
Homemade Basil Pesto
Makes about 1.5 cups
There are many variations on pesto, including substituting cilantro for basil and walnuts for pine nuts. I’m a purist when it comes to basic condiments and spreads like this, so I like it in the old-fashioned combination of basil and pine nuts. I also like my pesto thick and smooth and therefore process it to this consistency. If you’re a fan of chunky pesto, process it less. Fresh pesto can keep for up to a week in the refrigerator or frozen for up to a month or two.
- 1½ oz/ 40g pine nuts
- 8oz/ 200g fresh basil, leaves plucked
- 8-10 medium garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ oz/ 16g parmesan cheese, grated
- ½ cup olive oil
- Salt and ground black pepper
- Toast the pine nuts by placing them in a single layer in a pot over medium heat. Stir and shake the pot occasionally to evenly distribute the nuts until they start turning from beige to light brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- In the bowl of your food processor, add the plucked basil leaves, garlic cloves, pine nuts and lemon juice and process until your desired consistency is obtained.
- Tip the basil mixture into a medium bowl then add the lemon zest, and stir in the grated parmesan and olive oil in stages, letting each addition incorporate fully before adding the next.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper before using.
I wanted to share as well that the folks at Poor Taste Magazine have generously invited me to be their Featured Blogger of the Month! Head over to their site where I talk about my inspirations for Beyond the Plate, photography, food memories and homemade Nutella. Thank you Casey and team for the honor!