Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pesto Is The Solution To A Bumper Crop of Basil

Last fall, our friend, Donna McKenna, dropped off a couple of large plastic garbage bags filled with fresh basil plants.  Someone had given more of their bumper crop than they could use themselves.  They were pulling up the rest.  Donna used as much as she could, sold some at the local farmers' market, and still had bushels of basil. 

Even though we grow our own herbs, we were glad to get her leftovers.  But we couldn't possibly use so much basil at once, so I set about making lots of pesto.  I reasoned that it would be a better alternative than freezing or drying the raw herb.  Nothing preserves the flavor of fresh herbs like olive oil.

If you are growing basil in your garden, try my recipe for pesto with a Southern twist:
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (authentic Italian pesto contains pine nuts)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Equipment: A food processor or blender.  If using a blender, make sure the lid has an opening on top so ingredients can be added without removing the entire lid.

Procedure:

Put the basil and nuts in the blender, make sure the lid is secure, and give the machine a few short bursts (pulses) of power. Add the garlic and pulse a few times more.  This gets the basil chopped a little, but not too much.

Slowly pour in the olive oil in a steady stream while the blender is on.  Everything should be well mixed and chopped.  Add the grated cheese and pulse some more.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.  Taste the mixture.  Remember that the cheese adds a little salt.  Add more salt and pepper to taste.

This will give you about 1 cup.  Needless to say, I made a lot more than that.

I spooned the pesto into little plastic containers with lids, about 1/3 cup capacity, and put them in the freezer.  I've found that the basil tends to soak up some of the oil, even when frozen, and becomes pasty.  But stirring in a little more oil before using restores the pesto to the right consistency.  Though a year has passed, we still have some in the freezer and it tastes great.

Pesto is wonderful on toast, pasta, vegetables, chicken, veal and pork dishes, to mention a very few.  My favorite is roasted red bell pepper stuffed with feta cheese, pesto spooned over the top, and served warm.  Since we have a bumper crop of red and yellow bell peppers this year, we're eating a lot of them with pesto.

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