Basil is hands down my favorite herb. I love the smell, the color, and taste. In college I lived off of fresh basil, tomato & mozzarella salads. Basil plants are my favorite to grow because they are a great gauge to remind you to water the rest of your garden. It is incredible to see a basil plant bounce back to life after a good watering.
My Nonno (Italian for Grandfather) made a delicious pesto. He passed away years ago but the flavors of his food will always be with me. Fortunately for me, my husband's grandfather, "Granpa," is also Italian. Ironically, our families are from neighboring villages outside of Lucca, Italy and both grandfathers were Chefs in the military. Grandpa has an incredible garden here in California that produces fresh fruits and veggies year round.
This week Grandpa shared 2 large buckets of Fresh Basil & garlic from his garden. I have also seen lots of basil at the Farmer's Markets and thought this would be a great week to make Pesto.
Pesto is a great summer dish because you do not have to use heat to prepare it. I know Fresnans living in 100+ temperatures will enjoy that.
I hold a Teen Cooking Camp in July and this week my teens also prepared Pesto. I gave them the ingredients without a recipe and they made a delicious sauce. I was impressed with their ability to taste and add ingredients to make a perfect pesto! If my teens can do it, you can certainly make it at home.
Pick up a pesto plant from Trader Joe's or the Market or a bunch of Pesto from a local market and enjoy making this sauce over the weekend.
To prepare your pesto...
Wash your basil leaves by swirling them in a bowl of cold water. Drain leaves on a paper towel to dry. For the nuts, traditionally Pine Nuts are used in Pesto however pine nuts are not cheap! First of all they are actually not nuts, they are seeds and these little seeds are extremely hard to harvest- making a tiny bag of them around $10 a pop. My family uses walnuts but you can also use Almonds. In this recipe I did not add Parsley, but you can also add a little bunch of parsley or spinach to tone down the harsh flavors if you would like. Use a food processor or Blender to combine all the ingredients.
My family debates over when to add the cheese. I LOVE cheese so I add it into the sauce and may add more to my dish later too. Grandpa says to wait to add the cheese until later. You decide.
3 cups Basil leaves, washed & dried
3/4 cup Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Walnuts (or 1/4 cup Pine Nuts)
3 Garlic Cloves
1/2 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese
2 TB Pecorino Cheese
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until a uniform consistency is reached. Add Olive as needed but be careful not to add too much. The Olive Oil help blend all the flavors together.
I like to store Pesto in jars. Add a little olive oil to the top before putting on the lid. This is to prevent oxidization. Air & pesto do not mix. You can store your pesto in the freezer and enjoy delicious recipes for months ahead.
You can several serving options...
1. Serve Pesto at room temperature over prepared pasta. My family uses wide Egg Noodle and adds a chopped boiled potato and cheese. Bow tie pasta are great for serving Pesto too. Any pasta with a large surface area is great so that the pesto sticks to the pasta.
2. Make a Flatbread Pizza:
Use a homemade or store-bought pizza dough. Roll out to make a think crust. Using a fork, poke holes along the surface to prevent bubbles. Brush on a thick layer of pesto, top with Sun Dried tomatoes, Grilled chicken, Parmesan Cheese, and arugula. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Cut & serve!