We really had a huge crop of Basil, all varieties are rushing to flower. Its been a bit of a hassle to stay on top of pinching the flower heads off every plant every day so that the Basil plants will keep on producing leaves rather than seed. I had enough of that yesterday, so I finally cut the plants back in earnest (Use scissors, cut back a bolting summer plant by half). This pruning will yield bushier plants, but it also left me with six paper bags full of a world of yummy, fragrant basil. I gave away five, but kept the Genovese Basil for making Pesto.
I did a double batch from a recipe in Jim Long’s Herbs 101 book. Its a useful book, but really, any pesto recipe will do. What I learned from Jim’s recipe is to blend all ingredients but the cheeses, because they do not freeze well. You can make a cheese-less pesto and freeze it in cubes, and when you are ready to use some, for example in a pasta sauce, thaw and add the cheese then.
The recipe (with my variations) calls for 2 cups of basil leaves packed loosely. I took out the toughest stems but left in the smaller ones. I also packed it down a little more than what I’d call loose. Add a half a teaspoon of sea salt. I eyeballed it and used this Pink Himalayan salt (its our standard salt here). The recipe calls for 3 cloves of Garlic, I count big ones as one clove. For my doubled recipe, I used four small ones and three big ones. Also, use 3-4 heaping tablespoons of pine nuts or walnuts. Add them all together in a food processor, add 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil, and blend until coarsely unified. The smell will be delightful!
Once you have a nice pesto paste, put it in an ice cube tray, freeze for later. You can thaw it out when its time to use and add your cheeses to taste. The recipe calls for a Parmesan/Romano mix, others call for Pecorino, which is a similar Italian Romano.
Lessons learned and things that will make life better: Place your ice tray filled with pesto in a plastic bag, it will make your ice cream and fruit have a Basil taste if you freeze it in the buff. Some folks put a small layer of olive oil on top after filling the tray, that way the pesto on the surface doesn’t darken. I did not add pepper, which would have made a really nice pesto into a fantastic pesto. Next time, which will not be too long at the rate these plants grow, I will add some dried red pepper to the mix.
I also learned that I need to use a proper food processor and not the Vitamix. The Vitamix made something more akin to a pesto smoothie. While it will work fine, it should be more coarse than what is pictured. A simple web search will turn up countless recipes and variation, so have fun, make Pesto, eat well!
For next year’s garden? While growing all the varieties has been fun, next year I will focus on Genovese Basil (the most useful and lush variety we all know and love), Lemon Basil (It is so fragrant and lemony its amazing!) and maybe Lime Basil. Lime Basil kind of pales compared to the Lemon variety, but I have a grilling project with shrimp in mind for the Lime Basil. If that is a success, I will grow more lime Basil. The Thai is nice for Thai dishes with its light Anise tones, but I’m fooling myself if I think I’ll be making Thai soups any time soon. I’m the only one who likes it.