Basil: Heavenly Scent
Fresh 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.
Homemade 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 ingredient basil. 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.
According 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.
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
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.
All photos by madlyinlovewithlife; © 2014 madlyinlovewithlife