Making Pesto While the Sun Shines

You may have heard the saying, “Make hay while the sun shines”.  According to Urban Dictionary this means to take an opportunity to do something when the time and conditions are near perfect or available. This applied to my basil plant which, I have to say, grew magnificently this year. My secret: planting the herb garden in the front flower bed where the sprinkler system will water it. Hey, I never said I was a gardener. . . back to my basil plant. It was going to seed (I cut off the tall, spindly, flowering tops to keep from having a million basil plants pop up next year), and it was shading my thyme because it grew so big. Autumn in Texas can be 70 degrees one day and literally freezing the next. One freeze and basil turns black and mushy, so. . . I decided to make Pesto while the sun was shining!

I love basil because it's easy to grow and so yummy!
I love basil because it’s easy to grow and so yummy!

I invited a couple of friends to join me because a “Pesto Party” is always more fun with friends than a party of one and let’s face it, I have more basil than I know what to do with.

Now, some recipes call for pine nuts which can be expensive and hard to find. I use walnuts, they taste great and are readily found in any grocery store; but you are welcome to use pine nuts if you prefer.

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You will want to pick the basil leaves off the stems and wash them in a large colander; make sure and check for any creepy crawlies that may have snuck in! Then put the leaves into a salad spinner or pat dry with paper towels. This last step is important so you don’t have watered-down pesto.

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You’ll want to use a food processor; I love mine for lots of things but for pesto it is essential. Borrow someone’s if you don’t have one – you’ll love it and end up putting one on your wish list!

Put your garlic cloves in whole and give them a whirl – you don’t have to mince with a garlic press. Less dishes to wash, which I LOVE!

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Take the top off of the food processor and add the basil leaves all at once, packing them down if needed. If you have a mini processor you will want to halve the recipe for best results. Let the food processor chop until fine.

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Next the cheese, nuts, salt and pepper go in:

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Pulse ingredients until they resemble a coarse paste. Now here’s where it gets fun! You can add the olive oil for traditional pesto (as I did) OR you can add a log of goat cheese and make a delicious dip to take to parties or just eat yourself. I do have to mention that either way you’ll want to pick up (or make beforehand if you’re crafty like that) a loaf of french or artesian bread because it’s impossible NOT to try your pesto once it’s ready!

With the food processor running, drizzle the olive oil in through the top until it completely combines with the paste.

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Pesto is so yummy on bread, in pasta, add a tablespoon or two to your favorite spaghetti sauce for a richer flavor, use as a marinade for chicken, fish, you get the idea! Let me know how you like to use pesto!

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Because pesto is made with fresh basil it only lasts about a week in the fridge. I don’t know about you, but I like to have pesto all year ’round. You can easily freeze pesto in ice cube trays. Once it’s frozen transfer to freezer bags or plastic containers where it will last anywhere from 6-9 months.  I like to freeze in trays because I can pull out how much I need without having to defrost the whole batch at once. This recipe yields about 22 heaping tablespoons (each cube is 1 tablespoon). This makes it handy when you want to add it to pasta, soups, sauces, etc. It defrosts quickly but if you’re in a hurry you can microwave for 15 seconds at a time until soft.

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 Classic Basil Pesto

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2/3 cup pine nuts (may use diced walnuts)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (I like pink Himalayan sea salt)
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Using a food processor, finely chop the garlic. Add the basil leaves and chop until fine. Next, add the cheese, nuts, salt and pepper; pulse until the consistency of coarse paste. While the food processor is running drizzle the olive oil through the tube and mix until it is completely combined with the paste. Store in an airtight container in fridge for one week or freeze in ice cube trays and store in freezer bags or plastic containers for 6-9 months.

*For Basil Dip: Omit the olive oil and add 1-8oz goat cheese log. Mix until well blended in food processor. Spread on a slice of artesian bread, top with a sundried tomato slice and broil until it’s hot and bubbly.

(Thanks, Tricia, for the Dip tip!)

Makes about 2-1/2 cups

***BONUS Drying Tip***

So even after making all our pesto I still had basil left. I thought about drying some and put it on a cookie sheet to sit out in the sun. Well, the wind started to blow the leaves off the sheet before I even set it down. Then I had a FABULOUS idea! My new home came with a warming drawer (you could use your oven) and I’m still getting used to the idea of using the thing. Why not dry the basil in the warming drawer?

I spread the basil leaves out onto a cookie sheet so they weren’t touching each other. Then placed the cookie sheet in the warming drawer on low and checked on them every half hour until they were crisp (about two hours). Note: If you dry at too high a temperature the leaves lose their flavor. Patience is a virtue here, friends. I’ve read that virtue is likened to power. The power of patience is a lost art, but not lost on my drying technique!

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*In the heat of the summer I have set a sheet out in the attic and placed the washed and spun basil leaves on it. They will dry in about a week depending on how hot it is. The only problem is remembering it’s up there! Could be a fun “surprise” to find when you go to get your Halloween/Christmas decorations down. . . in Texas we don’t have basements so everything ends up in the attic.

Thanks for reading my post all the way to this point – it show’s that you LOVE basil as much as I do!

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