Miraculous, since basil hates cool weather, that it hasn’t turned funky this past week. The opportune moment to preserve it might have been two or three weeks ago, but now will work. Turning our relatively small patch of basil into pesto will take about an hour and provide delicious flavor to dishes all winter long, with spaghetti, pizza, in sauces, soup, salad dressing, smeared on to crackers or crostini.
These days pesto is made with a variety of greens, like parsley, spinach, kale, peas, though the classic version is with basil. Pesto is a generic Italian term for pounding, originally with a mortar and pestle – still such a satisfying tool. Garlic and pine nuts were pounded into a creamy texture and then salt and basil added, then Parmigiano-Reggiano and enough olive oil to make a smooth consistency. Perfect for embellishing a steaming bowl of pasta. Pesto is still made with these same basic ingredients, though often in a food processor, and we’ve made almost any nut an option as well as a variety of substitutes for the basil. I found a recipe for Basil Cream the other day in the Tassajara Cookbook which is pesto-like and made with cashews. NUM.
I’m thinking that if I have basil in my garden this week, so do some local farmers. It’s not too late to make pesto. Be a squirrel and store some for winter, or don’t store it. Make any of these pestos in just a few minutes and use right away to renew the appeal of anything grilled or steamed, a bowl of pasta, bread or crackers. Store in the fridge for up to a week or freeze any extra.
A Classic Basil Pesto Recipe
Ingredients: 5 – 6 cups basil leaves/ 1/3 C pine nuts, 1/3 C walnuts or 2/3 C of one or the other/ 7 cloves of garlic, less if you prefer/ 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese/ 1 1/4 cup olive oil/ 1 t salt, 1/2 t pepper.
Directions: Place nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in blender and process/ Add basil and while processing slowly add olive oil/ Add cheese and process until smooth. That’s it.
Pour into small containers, label and freeze. Or pour into ice cube trays, freeze, then remove and place frozen cubes in a larger container. Return to freezer and use one or several cubes as needed.
If you’re up for the mortar and pestle version, follow the anecdotal directions above. Then, if you can still lift an arm, pat yourself on the back.
Two more pesto-like spreads from the Tassajara Cookbook:
Basil, Walnut, and Sun-Dried Tomato Spread Recipe
1 cup each basil, sun-dried tomatoes, walnuts, and olive oil. 3 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon each dried oregano and dill, and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice. Rehydrate the sun-dried tomatoes before processing if necessary. Process until smooth. Delicious on grilled vegetables, baked potato or crostini.
Basil Cream Recipe
1 cup cashews to 9 or 10 cups fresh basil, 1/4 C lemon juice, 1 tablespoon miso, some olive oil, pepper, 4 – 5 fresh spinach leaves. Grind cashews, add remaining ingredients and enough olive oil to make a creamy consistency. Tassajara Cookbook recommends this in place of mayo on sandwiches, with grilled vegetables or tofu, and pasta.