Make your own basil pesto
I had lots of basil floating around (they’re great to plant with tomatoes as they both detract each other’s common pest), and the logical solution to using it all was that delicious, yet incredibly expensive, flavour paste BOMB that is basil pesto. You don’t even need a food processor to make your own, if you use Donna Hay’s “rough chopping” method. Personally I like the pesto to have everything chopped down really small, so the food processor really does come in handy there, but then again, you do get more washing up to do!
Now, before we commence on this smelly yet fantastically versatile flavour sensation, let me give you a few things to think about. First – there is a REASON pesto is expensive. The ingredients that go into it aren’t cheap – but don’t gawk at the prices too long, because with pesto, a little goes a long way (unless you’re my flatmate Bob, who used all his in one sitting).
Thanks must go to Deborah Harding for her basic basil pesto recipe and guide on how to use it. I basically use this recipe every time now, although the last batch I added some lemon zest too, which worked quite well and I like to think it stops the pesto oxidising as quickly. Who knows though? EDIT: Tony Tahhan has recently posted the secret to keeping your pesto green – blanch your basil or whatever herb/leaf you’re using for 10-15 seconds in boiling water, then rinse immediately under cold water, making sure to drain as much water out as possible. I have yet to try this, but will edit again. Meanwhile, I trust Tony, so go ahead and blanch! Let me know how it goes.
Home made basil pesto
makes about 200g
approx measures (don’t get too caught up, as long as the basic proportions are right, you’ll be laughing). This is really the minimum you want to be making in a conventional sized food processor though, because otherwise everything will just stick to the sides of the mixer bowl.
2 c well packed fresh basil leaves (give them a rinse)
1/4c pine nuts or almonds or cashews (absolutely no peanuts here people)
2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
approx 1/2 c extra virgin olive oil (I use cooking oil and it still tastes delicious)
1/2 c FRESHLY gated parmesan cheese – get the good stuff, or it won’t be worth the effort!
salt and freshly ground pepper to your taste
optional: 1 packed Tbsp finely grated lemon zest (not the white bit, just the fragrant yellow bits!), or a small squeeze of lemon juice
Pulse basil and pine nuts a few times in a food processor (or finely chop, and add to a bowl). Add garlic, and pulse again. Scrape down sides of food processor. Add oil, and pulse a few more times. Scrape down, add parmesan, and pulse a few times again. Add lemon zest, salt and pepper, pulse, scrape down, and taste. Add more salt if necessary, and take out food processor blade. Mix in with a spoon to fully incorporate, then put into small jars or airtight containers. Refrigerate.
The most important part about the order is that you add the oil and mix it in before you add the salt. This will prevent the basil leaves from wilting as much and going to a watery soppy texture.
The top of the pesto may go a bit brown after a day or two in the fridge. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean it has gone off, it has just been oxidised. Don’t leave opened basil pesto in your fridge for more than a week if possible, and if you’re making a big batch, don’t be tempted to freeze it, just store it in lots of small containers and fill them to the very top to get in as little air as possible.
EDIT: Dash of food posted a brilliant recipe for basil pistachio pesto – seeing as I adore pistachios, and they’re cheaper than pine nuts, I will SO be trying this next time around!!!