Summertime Fresh Basil: Homemade Pesto

112233464-2Basil: Heavenly Scent

I’m in heaven. Huge aromatic bouquets of fresh, locally grown basil are now available at our farmers market. I am certain that basil was heavenly sent (ha, ha… pun intended) for our pure pleasure. I’m under its magic spell the moment I lay it in my shopping bag at the farmers market, where it instantly releases its intoxicating, sweet, herbaceous aroma. I would follow it anywhere.

Happily, it follows me into our kitchen, where I use it in everything I can think of: tomato and basil bruschetta, Caprese salad, basil butter on freshly baked bread, pasta sauces, pizza, Thai basil chicken, and my favourite way to enjoy it: basil pesto on fresh homemade spinach fettuccine.

DSC_9863_3695_2cr-2Fresh Basil Bouquets

I love the way the aromatic bouquets of fresh basil perfume my entire kitchen even if I’m not directly working with it. But when I do work with it, oh my, it is truly divine: the moment I touch the leaves, their beautiful sweet, anise-like fragrance fills the air, and I find myself inhaling liberally, deeply, frequently sighing with pleasure and occasionally swooning.

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DSC_9722_3531-2Homemade Basil Pesto

Of all the things I make using fresh summer basil, pesto—the famous sauce from Genoa, Liguria, in Northern Italy—remains my perennial favourite. I absolutely love pesto and since it requires large amounts of fresh basil, summertime is prime pesto time around here.

Pesto Alla Genovese

Ligurians are extremely passionate about their devotion to pesto alla Genovese and its main ingredientbasil. The pesto I devoured in Liguria was nothing short of sublime. Every Ligurian village (and, for that matter, probably every family) has its own recipe for pesto and its own favourite kind of pasta to use with the sauce, usually either mandilli de sæa (literally, “silk handkerchiefs”), trofie or trenette. I love to serve it on my homemade spinach fettuccine.

The basic ingredients of a basil pesto common to all Ligurian recipes are fresh basil leaves, cheese (either Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino), pine nuts or walnuts, garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

1122554433-2According to Wikipedia, the name pesto derives from the Genovese word pestâ, which means to pound or crush. Traditionally, all the pesto ingredients are pounded and ground together using a mortar and pestle. In fact, the English word “pestle” derives from the Latin root of the same word.

Because my current mortar and pestle simply isn’t large enough, I’ve yet to make my basil pesto in the traditional way. I have my eye on a beautiful, good-sized granite Thai mortar and pestle, which I know I’ll someday own, but in the meantime I make my pesto using a food processor.

Whether you make your pesto in the traditional way or with a food processor, the heavenly ingredients combine perfectly to create an incredibly tantalizing pesto–which, for me, is one of the quintessential tastes of summer.

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Basil Pesto

Ingredients:

  • Two large bunches of basil leaves (about 4-5 cups of loosely packed basil)
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 5 tablespoons high quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces (60 g) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana Padano cheese or Pecorino cheese
  • 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Wash basil leaves and remove any hard stems. Dry basil leaves in a salad spinner or using a clean tea towel—you don’t want to use wet, soggy basil. Place basil, garlic, cheese, salt and toasted pine nuts in the food processor. Process until the ingredients are integrated. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil through the chimney of the food processor. You can add a bit more olive oil if the pesto seems too thick.

If not using all the pesto immediately, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil on the surface of the pesto and press a piece of plastic wrap snugly over the surface. Cover container with a lid or store container in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two days. If you do not press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pesto, the top layer will oxidize and turn brown. While pesto is always best made fresh, it holds up surprisingly well to freezing.

For those wishing to try the traditional mortar and pestle method for basil pesto, see David Lebovitz’s excellent recipe.

 

The Many Uses of Basil Pesto

My favourite way to enjoy pesto is to toss it with some of my homemade spinach fettuccine—it is a simple but incredibly tasty pasta dish (you can use any pasta of your choice). I’ve yet to photograph a plated dish of our homemade spinach fettucine with pesto. That’s because its sooooo delicious, I simply can’t hold off from eating it long enough to take a shot!

Pesto also makes a great panini spread: try making a panini with Italian ciabatta generously slathered with basil pesto, layered with provolone, roasted red peppers, lots of fresh baby arugula and anything else you might want to throw into the mix. Pesto is also great tossed with freshly steamed green beans or served with grilled chicken.

 

 

Image Credit:

All photos by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2014 madlyinlovewithlife

17 thoughts on “Summertime Fresh Basil: Homemade Pesto

  1. My mouth is watering. Basil is heaven-sent for sure. We grow it in our garden, so we are always able to pluck it at a moment’s notice. I also grow rosemary which is another of those intoxicating herbs. Last night I sautéed some fresh yellow squash from our garden. After placing it on the serving platter I topped it with fresh basil leaves. Simple and delicious. I love your pictures in this post. I’ve always thought that food photography is your medium. You should publish for Gourmet Magazine.

    • Thank you so much, David. You are so fortunate to have a good supply of fresh basil growing in your garden. Oh, how I’d love to grow my own basil–now that would be heaven to me. I tried growing my own basil in pots once and, while it thrived, I gave up on the idea after I used an entire pot for one pesto recipe! So I now get it all from the farmers market. I too love the taste and scent of rosemary, which I can grow in a pot, since I don’t go through such vast amounts.

      I love your idea of using basil on squash. Simple and fresh is my kind of food. I’m going to give it a try.

      And thank you for your gracious comments about my food photography. It really is my favourite kind of photography and it’s rather fun to combine two things I love. Thanks for dropping by and have a great week ahead. :))

  2. Wonderful Jeannie. All those dishes you mentioned and the photos have me salivating! :) Mom always grew some in the garden and I too share your love of it…She never made pesto but after seeing yours I’m pretty sure I would have been hooked on it… Have a great new week my friend.. Sam :)

    • Oh, you are another of those lucky ones who had access to home grown fresh garden basil! In my books, it simply doesn’t get any better than that! If you love basil, then there’s no doubt in my mind that you’d absolutely love basil pesto. And I think you’d especially love it on my homemade spinach fettuccine! :)) Thanks so much for stopping by, Sam. Enjoy this beautiful summer weather! :))

  3. Yum! We were making pesto with our home grown basil, but as it is winter here now, it is fading. We will plant some more in spring. Something to look forward to.

    • And you are one of those fortunate ones who get to plant and tend their own basil! Ha…ha… I do believe I’m starting to feel a bit envious! I’m sure the growing season where you are is much longer than our very short season, so you must have access to fresh basil for quite a while. And it certainly is something to look forward to each year, isn’t it? I suspect that if we all had access to fresh basil all year round, it wouldn’t be such a treat. Thanks for stopping by. :))

  4. Mmmm! I can smell & taste it right now, just from your description! I’d give anything if I could have a dish of your fettucini with the pesto sauce today!!
    XX M

    • I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but we are having exactly that for dinner this evening. I know you’d LOVE it! And who knows? It may be in your cards to have it one day! Anything is possible! :)))

  5. Love this piece Jeannie…so well written and the photographs are fantastic. I’m a pesto fan, but it has been a while since I made it…so I think it’s time I go and get a few bunches. Thanks for the inspiration!

        • Hi Koji. I sharpen my knife at home using a ceramic honing rod at the correct angle for this knife (around 15˚ ). It holds it’s edge incredibly well. Once a year, I take it in to the great local knife shop where I purchased it (they exclusively sell Japanese knives) and I get it professionally sharpened. They do waterstone knife sharpening by hand. And, you’re right Koji, this knife can’t stay wet. I admit that I totally baby it and clean it immediately after every use. That’s certainly a drawback for many people. It’s a great knife but there are also other great knives out there that will take laying around a kitchen sink! Happy cooking, my friend. I always enjoy your forays into the kitchen. :))

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