One of the best ways to keep the basil plant flourishing is to use a lot of it. Basil thrives when its leaves and stems are continually plucked and clipped.
Pesto is a delicious, healthy way to use lots of basil at once. About every two weeks I pluck a large quantity of the leaves and new growth and make a batch in my mini food processor. I typically enjoy pesto on sliced baguette—I don’t usually bother to toast or grill the bread for crostini but that’s even better. As the weather cools into the fall, I’ll serve pesto over a plate of thin spaghetti.
Here’s my take on basil pesto: I don’t use pine nuts because they had to cost to an otherwise inexpensive and healthy dish and I don’t keep them on hand. For a special occasion with guests, I might splurge for pine nuts but I’ve found that I don’t miss them. I also throw in a splash of white vinegar (regular or rice), for added tang.
I use a mini-sized food processor, so I can make just enough for me to enjoy as a main course with a bit leftover for the next day, or as an appetizer for two to four. I find it easy to vary the amounts by simply adjusting the quantity of oil, Parmesan cheese and garlic to maintain the desire consistency. This particular batch yielded about 1 cup of pesto.
Pluck or clip the basil leaves and longer shoots from the plant. I typically pull the leaves off any thicker base stems but leave the bunches attached to the tender stems. I rinse the basil leaves lightly, just in case. I look for any debris as I’m pulling the leaves. I drain the basil and sometimes finish it off with a paper-towel pat down. A bit of moisture is fine. Too much and you’ll have watery pesto.
Peel and slice two bulbs of garlic. These two bulbs were extra large, so I ultimately used only 1-1/2 bulbs and I probably had a bit too much garlic. If you have small bulbs, you’ll need to adjust proportionately. I like garlic a lot, but there is a limit.
Pack the basil leaves into the food processor and add the garlic. You don’t need to pack every basil leaf in at first. As you process, you can add more. I usually put the garlic in the middle and cover with more basil, to help make sure it’s finely-chopped by the end of the blending process. Add about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil. When I make a full mini-processor batch, as here, I use around 1/2 cup of oil, but I start with less so that I can monitor the consistency as I blend and add the cheese (in Step Four). Throw in a splash of white vinegar (probably the equivalent of 2 teaspoons, max). The vinegar is optional, but it’s one of my unique contributions. Chop for a few seconds and add more basil, if you have more. Repeat the process until you’ve used all the basil. Add more oil, as necessary. You want the mixture to be pretty runny at this point because the Parmesan cheese will thicken.
Sprinkle in Parmesan cheese. I often use Parmesan cheese made from Wright’s Dairy milk(Yellow Moon Cheese), so it’s technically not from Parma, Italy. But it’s quite good and it’s made locally by the cheese artisans at Yellow Moon Cheese.
I don’t have a set amount of Parmesan cheese that I use because I base my quantity on texture, consistency and taste. For guidance, start with maybe 1/2 cup for a batch of similar size. Blend into the basil, oil and garlic mixture.
This is what my finished batch looks like (with one large chunk of garlic that I diced manually and added to the mixture).
Serve over pasta, on crostini or simply slather onto a slice of crusty baguette.
I often enjoy pesto as the centerpiece of my evening meal. I might serve it with sliced tomatoes, a bit cucumber and sweet onion soaked in vinegar, and olives, carrots, and whatever else I have on hand.
Pesto doesn’t store particularly well in the refrigerator. But it’s easy to freeze extra pesto using an old-fashioned ice cube tray. Fill the slots with pesto and freeze. Once frozen, pop the pesto cubes out of the tray and wrap separately in wax paper. Then store the cubes in an airtight container in the freezer (freezer bag is OK). Remove one or two at a time (per serving) whenever you want pesto over pasta for dinner during the winter. It’s like a taste of spring. Once thawed, the color will be a bit darker than fresh pesto but it’s fine as long as it was fresh when frozen.
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Wade Kwon posted Chef Franklin Biggs recipe for pesto on Google+. It’s almost identical to mine (I subtract the pine nuts and add the splash of vinegar, otherwise quite similar.) So you really can’t mess this up, folks.