My absolute favorite herb to grow is basil, hands down. It’s the first herb I ever grew and it always has multiple appearances in my garden. My two favorite things to to with basil are #1- mozzarella, tomato and basil salad and #2- pesto!
I usually wait until I can pick a huge crop of basil and we make 2 batches of pesto in the season. Usually one half way through and one at the end of the season and freeze the extras. We have had a really hot summer so far and it was in the upper 90s to 100s over the weekend. Our backyard turns into the Sahara since it is all sun and little shade. The heat keept me out of the garden for close to a week.
After we got a cool down I walked around to examine my plants and realized I had committed a huge basil sin. My basil was flowering all over the place. I knew it was time to cut it back really hard to prevent the basil from flowering again any time soon. I got out my scissors and snipped away. I filled a huge bowl full of tasty basil leaves.
Mike washed the basil and we both worked on stripping the leaves off the stems and picking off the flower buds. I am experimenting with Thai basil this year. It has smaller leaves and flowers much quicker than the common sweet basil. It also has a spicy smell. We ended up mixing both together and I’m not sure if I could really tell the difference once everything was blended.
Our lovely pile of basil.
As Mike was pulling out the other ingredients for the pesto he realized we were out of fresh garlic. It just so happened that my garlic was looking ready to harvest so I pulled out a fresh head of garlic to add to the pesto.
Yummy fresh garlic.
Pesto is typically made with pine nuts. We have learned over many pesto batches that you can substitute different types of nuts (or you can omit them all together.) We have used walnuts and sunflower seeds with great success. At our local grocery store a container of pine nuts was $9.19. The sunflower seeds were in a larger container for a whopping $2.99. Guess which ones we went with.
We bought raw ones so we toasted them in a small skillet with a little olive oil until golden brown to add more flavor. We let them cool before adding them to the pesto.
Other ingredients for the pesto include salt, olive oil and parmesan cheese. You can use the powder kind but the fresh tastes so much better. If you buy the pre shredded stuff it’s not that expensive. Sargento brand was on sale for only $2.50 at our local grocery store.
Our recipe for pesto varies based on what we have on hand. It is really to your taste so you can change it up as you please. Here is a rough estimate of the amount of ingredients we used:
2 cups basil
1/3 cup nuts
4 cloves fresh garlic
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil (add to the consistency you want so we never measure this)
Whirl the basil, garlic, sunflower seeds, parmesan cheese and salt in food processor until it forms a paste. Slowly add in olive oil until you get the consistency you want. Thicker pesto is good for spreading but a thinner consistency is great for pasta.
We served it atop some grilled burgers and on shell pasta. It’s amazing on vegetables like zucchini, corn and tomatoes (or is tomato a fruit?) It also makes a great pizza in place of the marinara sauce.
Mike put a spoonful on top of salad the other night and we mixed it with ranch (Hidden Valley of course) and it was amazing. I dreamed about it that night and it’s one of my new favorite ways to eat pesto.
It freezes really well too. You can put it in ice cube trays then pop it out and store it in a plastic bag. Then you can pull out only the amount you will use.
We will be having many more meals featuring basil and pesto this summer. As a matter of fact the pizza suggestion seems like it may make it’s way into our weekly menu :)