Soooo, I’ve photographed and prepared a couple recipes that I was planning to post before this one, but I just couldn’t help myself. This recipe is so so sooo good, and it has been a staple for me this summer, even more so than in previous years. Though I almost exclusively enjoyed pesto as a pasta sauce in the past, year by year I’ve expanded my uses for it. I’ve found it to be fabulous spread on sandwiches, quesadillas, wraps, pizza, and grilled cheese sandwiches. It is also really great mixed half and half with hummus.
If you don’t grow your own basil, it isn’t very economical to buy the large quantity of fresh required for pesto. However, if you do grow your own, you know how huge basil can get. Nearly every time I make pesto, I mosey out to the garden and grab a huge armful, which somehow hardly puts a dent in the plants. Once inside, I realize that I grabbed about twice as much basil as I needed. EVERY TIME. It at least doesn’t go to waste. I enjoy a vase of fresh basil leaves sitting in the kitchen just as much as a bouquet of flowers, and it makes it easy to snip a few leaves here and there for garnishes or a quick caprese snack.
But seriously. If you don’t grow basil in your garden, you really should. It takes very little effort, grows easily in the ground or in pots, and produces such a large reward.
Most basil pesto recipes don’t differ all that much, and I’ve never made one that tasted anything less than satisfactory. However, there are a few components of this recipe that make it my favorite. First, the amount of parmesan cheese. This recipe calls for about double the amount that many other recipes use, and it totally makes a difference. Because, well, cheese. Second, many recipes don’t use lemon. I’ve found that the lemon helps keep the pesto green (no blanching involved!), and it also gives it an even fresher flavor. Don’t worry. With everything else going on, you can’t specifically taste the lemon. Third, the nuts are toasted. This really adds that extra little bit of flavor that is so worth the couple of extra minutes. Also, as a side note, I find that walnuts taste just as good as the pine nuts, which can definitely be pricey. Finally, many recipes don’t call for salt, which I consider an essential ingredient here.
4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup pine nuts or walnuts
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zest and juice
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 5 minutes until fragrant and lightly golden in color, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.
2. Add all ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. If not all of the basil leaves fit, gradually add them in batches after processing the rest of the mixture down. Process mixture until ingredients are chopped down to the desired consistency.
3. Store pesto in the refrigerator for up to a few weeks.
Note: Pesto freezes really well. I usually like to freeze it in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop out the pesto cubes and store in a freezer ziplock bag.
Yield: about 1 pint
(Recipe from Simply Scratch)