At the beginning of December last year I planted six basil seedlings. They have miraculously survived the heat of the last two weeks and are now ready to pull up and use. I really only plant basil for one reason – making pesto sauce. Though I do pick leaves when I’m making pasta sauces, stir frys and homemade pizzas. The smell of freshly picked basil in the kitchen always makes me salivate. Basil is not only delicious it’s also wonderfully healthy and pesto doubly so. There’s a very good reason why health experts sing the praises of the Mediterranean diet – a diet full of vegetables, pulses and carbs, nuts and olive oil but not too much meat.
Making pesto is so easy and makes the most simple of dishes absolutely delicious. For a quick nutritious lunch, I like my pesto spread on fresh bread with sliced tomato (bruschetta) or for a healthy ‘fast food’ evening meal simply stir some through a bowl of spaghettini.
- 4 cups basil leaves
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (you can use walnuts)
- 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, cubed (you can also use Pecorino or Romano cheese)
- Salt and pepper to taste
When picking the basil leaves, I also include the leaf stalks and the flowers. It’s only the woody stem that can’t be used. Wash your basil leaves and remove any excess water. I have a salad spinner which does this for me, but patting the leaves dry between two tea towels also works.
In a blender or food processor add the basil leaves, pine nuts, cheese, garlic and the olive oil. Pine nuts are a tad expensive, but they do add a wonderful creamy richness to the pesto. Pulse through. I like to add the salt and pepper after it has been blitzed then give it another quick whiz before finishing.
Spoon or pour the sauce into small clean jars. I poured a little extra olive oil on top to stop the pesto going too brown. Freshly made pesto is a wonderful vibrant green but will brown when in contact with air (oxidisation). Store it in the fridge until needed.
My basil plant ended up making three batches of the above recipe (that’s 12 cups of basil leaves), so it can make A LOT of pesto sauce. Thankfully I have a few family members who will gratefully take a small jar off my hands 😉 My nephew would even eat it straight from the jar if he was allowed to!
I also froze some of the pesto in my old baby food trays, as they have lids. Though ice cube trays are also good. I can then have fresh pesto whenever I fancy.
Another five plants to go! Thankfully fresh basil leaves can easily be frozen. Just clean them, dry them and store them in freezer bags. This way I’ll have enough basil to make pesto for the whole year. Hooray! If you don’t have the space or the inclination to grow basil, simply buy a large bunch from the grocery store. Believe me, once you’ve tried fresh pesto you’ll never buy the jar stuff again!