HOMEMADE PESTO RECIPE
written by @juliarecipes
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I am picking up my last herbs, plants and veggies from the garden, because soon first frost will come here in Eastern Canada. And one of the herbs I had this year in my garden and I had a lot of it this year, is basil.
Basil, what is it? I am sure most of you absolutely know and may even question “how come someone doesn’t know basil?” Well, whether you know or not, I am still going to explain, that basil is a green culinary herb, also called great basil or Saint-Joseph’s-wort. You must have notice, in the main picture (actually I have it on all pictures here in this post), that it is a larger oval green leaf with pointy edge.
Basil is native to tropical regions from central Africa to Southeast Asia. It is a tender plant, and is used in cuisines worldwide, mostly in Italy. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.
Now, what is actually pesto ? Pesto (sometimes spelled as pasto or to refer to the original dish pesto alla genovese ) is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, European pine nuts, coarse salt, basil leaves, lemon, Parmesan cheese all blended with olive oil.
Pesto is commonly used on pastas, gnocchi, potatoes, in lasagnas, on tomatoes, etc. Pasta, mixed with pesto, has become a well-known dish in the majority of countries today, with countless recipes. And let me tell you, when it’s made at home, freshly crushed from your garden picked basil, it is the best pasts you have ever eaten.
So let me tell you what do you exactly need to prepare this heavenly pesto at home. We will start with the main ingredient and it’s basil. If you have it from your garden, remove just the leaves of basil. If you basil leaves are large (as at the end of the season it might be) cut off the hard and thick stems. If your basil leaves comes from your garden, don’t wash them, this is one of my tricks, whenever I use basil (homemade grown) I never wash the leaves…and why? Because basil leaves will loose their aroma, once washed. And because of that aroma, we use and we cook with basil leaves.
When it comes from store, it’s a bit risky to let the basil leaves without washing them, unless it is specifically noted on the packaging, that is is already pre-washed, I would rather rinse them quickly, because you never know, who touched them in the store right? All right, next its pine nuts, toast them, toasted are always better, give them a quick roast either in your little oven or on the stove skillet. Quick no oil, just little 5 min. roast with medium heat. Doesn’t need to take any color from the roasting. It might stay white, just the little heat will give this toasty aroma.
When choosing Parmesan, you don’t break your head, just take any Parmesan in the store, already grated is the simple solution for busy mommies, but if you really want to have a the mmm taste, go and grab nice Pamigiano-Reggioano (name of the cheese, bit more expensive, but worth it) plus you can add a bit of sheep cheese Pecorino Sardo (not as easy to find as Parmigiano though). But as I said, with simple grated Parmesan, your pesto will be perfect.
Pine nuts is a real must, someone might suggest to use walnuts or pecan nuts, no no no! Usually pine nuts are now available at any store these days, it shouldn’t be hard to find. If you are allergic to nuts, just don’t use them, it won’t have this buttery taste, but it’s all right.
Fresh garlic will bring little zing with few drops of lemon. And lemon will guarantee longevity of the green color, as well as the safe storage.
Olive oil is one of the ingredient, which will smooth up the taste of pesto and calm the distinctive smell of basil. So please don’t worry, if you are overwhelmed by the scent of basil, it is only normal, fresh basil is very strong, but once mixed with all the other ingredients and especially olive oil, it will be just a pleasant scent of garden freshness.
Food processor last thing, what you will need is a food processor. I am sure, you must have one at your hand. So you bring all the ingredients together (except the olive oil) in the food processor and pulse at least 5 times, until it all blends together. Now slowly add the olive oil and pulse for three times, check the consistency you desire. I prefer a bit runny, so I use the whole olive oil written in the recipe. But some of you might want to have thicker consistency, so as you add slowly in the food processor the oil, check your desired consistency. If you want to have your pesto completely smooth, pulse little longer.
You can as well use few teaspoons of cream in your pesto, for creamier texture. I prefer the raw basil pesto, but for my kids I did added few drops of cream, they prefer it with lighter and creamier texture.
Transfer the pesto in small jar or bowl and use immediately on pasta or store in refrigerator up to 2 weeks. You may also freeze your pesto, either in Ziploc bags or in ice cube container for up to 1 month. I personally do not freeze pesto, either basil leaves, because I find, that it looses it’s aroma completely. But it could be just my preferences your freezer might have been better then mine 😊. Do not store the pesto with addition of the cream. It would get spoiled quickly. Use it only in the portion, you will use immediately on pasta.
VEGAN TIP – For vegan option, use either vegan Parmesan (you can fins them in health stores) or 1 Tbsp of nutritional yeast (same, you find it in health store).
Preparation time: 15 minutes⭐cooking time: 0 minutes⭐ servings: 2 cups
- ⅓ cup raw pine nuts
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Toast the nuts (optional, but worth it): In a medium skillet, toast the nuts over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.
- To make the pesto, combine the basil, nuts, Parmesan, lemon juice, garlic and salt in a food processor. Pulse for 5 times or until the ingredients will blend roughly together. Now run the food processor on slow speed and slowly drizzle in the olive oil or add it spoon by spoon. Continue processing until the mixture is well blended, as you desire. You don’t need to use the whole quantity of the olive oil, if you find that your pesto consistency is perfect after few spoons of olive oil, then you stop adding it. (Olive oils comes in different thickness or consistency, some of them are more runny then others, that is why I suggest to go slowly with the olive oil, while adding it in your pesto mixture).
- (Optional) You can also add few tsp of heavy cream into your pesto for creamier texture, if you like. Make sure you will be using it right away in your pasta. (I would not recommend storing or freezing pesto with cream in it.)
- Now your pesto is ready to use, on pasta, gnocchi, potatoes, on pizza…endless possibilities.
- Store leftover pesto in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 2 weeks. You can also freeze pesto in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer bag, then you can thaw only as much as you need later. In the freezer, you can keep it up to 1 month.