So I got a new toy today.... Everybody meet Mr. Mini-Prep, courtesy of Cuisinart and an amazon.com gift card. I've been waiting for this little guy's arrival for about a week now, and for one purpose above all others-- the production of pesto from the large force of basil in my back garden.
Pesto and I go way back. We first met when I was a very small girl who refused on principle to eat anything green except for perhaps green M&Ms and maybe a pea or two. Pesto was green; ergo, pesto and I were not friends.
This changed when I was perhaps eight or nine because of one Mollie Katzen and her cookbook for kids, Pretend Soup (for any parents out there, I highly recommend it. There's a companion book for slightly older kid chefs called Honest Pretzels). In this cookbook was a recipe for "Green Spaghetti," and, skeptical as I was, I'm fairly certain that it was by seeing a pesto recipe put into picture book form that I finally worked up the nerve to give it a try. I only regret that I waited so long.
My family's pesto recipe is lifted almost entirely from Mollie Katzen's book The Enchanted Broccoli Forest. At some point, I will devote a post to Mollie Katzen and how amazing she is both for vegetarians and for good, wholesome cooking in general, but that post is not this post. So, anyway, the moment I decided to grow basil in my garden, I'd intended to use it to make at least one delicious batch. Actually, I mostly planted basil so I could have fresh pesto. When the end of summer arrives, chances are I'll turn whatever basil hasn't been used for other purposes into lots more batches, because pesto freezes fantastically. The secret? Don't add the parmesan until after you defrost it. But yeah, just pop the frozen container in the microwave or in a bowl with lots of hot water in it, add some cheese and some boiling water (I'll get to that in more detail later), and use it however you normally would. My family probably still has pesto in their freezer from last summer.
Pesto is of course best known as a pasta sauce, but it's also great in panini. Pesto mayo is awesome, and I hate mayonnaise in any other form. Pesto also makes a nice sauce for roasted or grilled veggies (and probably meat, but I don't go there). In the end, I'm not sure if anything can quite beat out that bowl of pasta though....
So, without further adieu, here, lifted with slight variations from Mollie Katzen is a killer pesto recipe. Also, I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures. I was so excited to finally be making pesto that I forgot about my camera until it was done.
- 3 cups of packed basil
- 2-4 cloves of garlic
- 1/3 cup walnuts or pine nuts, preferably toasted
- 1/4-1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/3 cup (or however much you want, really) parmesan cheese
- salt and pepper to taste
1. (Note: If making pasta, you can probably put up water to boil at this point)Use a food processor to mince the basil and garlic. If you have a small food processor like me, you'll need to do this in batches, probably. I like my mini-prep, but it is mini. Also, I have tried this in a blender with poor results. I am not one to use unnecessary kitchen appliances--I do almost everything prep-wise by hand-- but this really is a recipe that requires a decent food processor.
2. Add the nuts and keep the food processor going until they're ground in. Pine nuts are commonly associated with pesto, but honestly, they're so much more expensive than walnuts that if you're not really treating yourself you'd do better to go with the cheap option. Nuts are mostly a texture thing. The pine nuts do, in my opinion, taste better, but pesto's so good already that I don't always feel the need to add the expense.
3. If your food processor allows for it, add the oil while still mixing the basil, garlic, and nuts. This should really help everything come together, and whatever didn't mix well before will probably be incorporated. Mollie Katzen calls for 1/3 cup, but I've found that I need less to suit my tastes. I like my pesto to still be relatively grainy.
4. When your mix resembles a paste, stop the food processor, dump the pesto into a bowl, and add the cheese, along with the salt and pepper. Mix well. In terms of cheese, I've lately gotten obsessed with fresh-grated stuff, but, honestly, the green can isn't so horrible in pesto. The consistency actually matches better than freshly-grated parm, unless you grate it really finely.
Now, before you mix your awesome pesto with your awesome pasta, you're going to want to take a couple tablespoons of the boiling water from the pasta pot and put it in with the pesto. It loosens it up nicely, I suppose, and makes it easier to mix? To be entirely honest, I just do this because my parents do, and I tend to trust them. It's not that the pesto won't work if you don't add the extra water, so relax if you've already drained your pasta, but it does help a bit.
If you've got them, sun-dried tomatoes are absolutely incredible in pesto. I like to chop them into little bits and mix them in. I sometimes actually drizzle a bit of the oil they're packed in on top of my bowl. It's also nice to add more cheese, if you like it.
One more note: this stuff is great cold, so if you want to bring leftovers into the office, there's no need to find a microwave (although leftovers warmed up are lovely too). Really, you can't go wrong. It's pesto. It may just be my favorite food, and that is saying something.