Friday, September 26, 2008

Simple basil pesto

I haven't posted too many recipes lately, so I thought I'd put up a quick, easy recipe I'm doing a lot this time of year - pesto. Technically, pesto is any herb that is suspended in oil, but most people associate pesto with basil. Basil grows really well in Davis, so well that I always have way too much of it and end up frantically giving it away. The main problem is that there just aren't that many ways to use it. My primary ways to use basil are in pesto, liquor, or just added a bit of it to dishes such as salads, soups, risottos, etc. The only time basil is ever really the star is in pesto or liquor. (BTW, if anyone wants the exact basil liquor recipe, just request it in the comments and I'll do a post on it).

Pesto has really only a few basic ingredients - basil, salt, olive oil, and garilc are the only ingredients I use to make the basic paste. Traditional pesto, from Genoa, also calls for pine nuts and parmesan cheese.

I don't use pine nuts because they're expensive and because I use my in-laws recipe, which doesn't call for pine nuts, probably because my in-laws are not from Genoa. I've heard that you can also use walnuts.

I do use parmesan cheese, but I don't add it until I serve the pesto. I don't know why, that's just the way my husband likes it. I think I also read that it freezes better without the cheese.

OK, so the recipe - I already gave you the ingredients, and I don't measure, as you'll see. Here they are again:

Basil, garlic, olive oil, salt

You need at least a handful of basil, more is better. Put this in a blender, or chop it up very finely with a knife or mezzaluna, or crush it with a mortar and pestle. I recommend the blender, unless you want a less creamy consistency. Add some garlic - for only a handful of basil, add half a clove or less. You can always add more if you want it more pungent later. Then add some olive oil, and turn the blender on. (This would also be the time to add the pine nuts or walnuts, if you're using them.) You'll be able to tell pretty quickly if you need more oil. Keep adding it bit by bit until you get a creamy paste. Sprinkle in just a bit of salt, then taste it. Adjust the salt and garlic if you like - this is a matter of personal taste.

If you're going to freeze it, I recommend adding only the amount of oil necessary to make a paste - when you thaw it, you can add more oil to get the consistency you want. I freeze mine by packing it into ice cube trays and sticking them in the freezer. When they're frozen, I pop them out and put them in a freezer bag. And voila!

A final note on freezing basil - Last year, I blanched my basil (dunked it for about 10 seconds in boiling water), squeezed out the excess water (try using a salad spinner if you have one), and packed it into freezer bags in as flat a layer as possible. Now when I need some for soup or something, I just break off a piece, chop it up, and toss it in. It defrosts really quickly, and is very handy for cooking. But it does have a little bit of extra water content from blanching that fresh basil wouldn't have, so adjust your recipes accordingly.

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