from the herb garden – basil pesto
Thunder rolled and rumbled last night, so uncommon for us here in Western Oregon. The wind picked up, and finally the rain fell, not thunderstorm-hard, but gentle. It was a welcome sound, soothing even. When I woke this morning, everything had a shimmer about it as if sprinkled by little beings while we slept, unaware.
Summer mornings, I love to walk around the yard, inspecting and inhaling, sometimes still carrying my cup of coffee with me. I had a plan for dinner, so the herb garden was the first place I went this morning. It was positively brilliant and buzzing with life. (I’m not particularly fond of spiders, but even they were doing lovely things.) For the last several days, my husband’s been out of town. I wanted to welcome him home with one of his very favorite things – pasta tossed in homemade pesto, made with heaping handfuls of basil from our garden. Something about him smacking his lips pleases me so much.
SO incredibly easy to make, and it’s heads above anything you’ll buy. I don’t mean to brag. But it’s true. (I suppose it would be true of almost any homemade pesto.) It’s all about the fresh! (Well, and always about the love.)
Though traditionally made with a mortar and pestle, it’s a time-consuming method, so I’m giving instructions here for a food-processor or blender. If one day you feel like doing something barefoot in your kitchen and you’ve got the time, put on some romantic Italian violin music, bring out that heavy mortar and pound away as aromatic clouds of basil and garlic engulf you. (Someone may just come up behind you and kiss your neck.)
- 3 packed cups of tender, young basil leaves
- 3 heaping Tablespoons pine nuts
- 1½ teaspoons coarse salt
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more to taste)
- 3 plump garlic cloves, minced finely
- ½ cup freshly grated cheese, preferably a combination of Parmesan and Pecorino Romano (otherwise all Parmesan) – with extra reserved for serving
- (more salt to taste, if needed)
Put the basil, pine nuts and salt into a food-processor or blender and process while you add the oil in a steady stream. You’re not looking for a fine pureé here – but rather a grainy sauce, with bits of basil leaf and nuts still identifiable. Add the minced garlic and process just enough to mix. Remove the sauce to a bowl and using a spatula stir in the grated cheese. At this point, if the sauce seems thicker than you’d like, add a little extra olive oil.
Serving suggestions: Though I’ve pictured it here with spaghetti, it’s wonderful on linguine, or any pasta that has a “cup” or tube to hold even more of the sauce – penne or orecchiette (“little ear” pasta) as examples. Pesto’s also wonderful dropped by a spoonful atop Minestrone soup. Or on boiled new potatoes. Or on fresh green beans. Or on slices of juicy tomatoes. Or on bruschetta with melted mozzarella. Or in an omelette…
To store: If not using immediately, you can keep it refrigerated for several days by doing the following: omit the cheese, put the sauce in a jar and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. (This will prevent the basil from oxidizing and turning brown.) You can store it in the freezer this way for weeks at least. When it comes time to use it, let it come to room temperature and stir in the cheese.
NOTE: With something as special as this, and with as few simple ingredients, you won’t be sorry if you choose high quality olive oil and cheese. The difference is one you can taste.