Saturday, July 03, 2010

From The Garden: Fresh Basil Pesto

The first wave of harvests from the garden ended with a bit of a whimper.  My onion plants were all ripped right out of the ground by thieving wild animals, and the snow peas collapsed in a miserable, shriveled up heap before they really gave us anything.

The radishes did well, and the lettuces did splendidly for about six weeks, but the very last salad, the harvest that I had let build up for a few days so that our final salad would be a spectacular one, was nothing short of heartbreaking.  On that fateful afternoon about a month ago, when I traipsed outside with a colander and an appetite and my heart on my sleeve, I stood in horror as I surveyed the completely barren garden bed where the lettuce had been.  There was nothing there.  Not even the base of the stems.  Rabbits had come in and mown the whole bed clean.

I have never felt quite so murderous towards another living being.  Those rabbits will be sorry.  Maybe not those exact rabbits per se, but at least their offspring.  The sins of the fathers will be visited upon their sons.  I will exact my revenge.

My first set of tomato plants disappeared mysteriously one night, ripped out by their roots (not sure whether to blame the rabbits again, or deer), but now that there are tomato cages over the second planting, they seem to be doing well so far.  I am cautiously optimistic about those tomatoes, along with the pepper plants, the watermelon, and the butternut squash, but only time will tell.

As far as I am concerned though, the second harvest has commenced.  While I have been pinching small sprigs of basil and flat-leaf parsley for the past two months, and bringing them in to use in small amounts at dinner, in dishes such as grilled potato salad, lemon-herb bruschetta, and other sundry recipes, it was only this week that I went outside and found the basil plants had literally exploded.

Exploded in a good way, that is.  I brought a little more than a pound inside one evening, and rather excitedly whipped up three batches of fresh pesto.

We love pesto.  Every year, whether from plants in my own garden or that of my mother, or even from our former beloved CSA, we enjoy at least a few dinners of pasta with fresh basil pesto (there has even been arugula pesto on our menu in seasons past), and there have been years in which I have managed to freeze enough batches to see us through the winter.

There is nothing, it would seem, that can evoke summer in January so well as the bright, sharp peppery flavor of pesto made from fresh basil.  And to our utter delight, pesto that is frozen keeps its fresh flavor in a way unlike any other herb preservation technique.

I find pesto is best served over a substantial pasta.  The light, slippery sauce is a bit lost on angel hair, and it can be a bit clumpy when used as an accompaniment to orecchiette or penne, where it can lodge itself into the crevices and make a nuisance out of itself, so we tend towards homemade whole-wheat fettucine.  The heft of the whole-wheat makes for a more filling meal, and the width of the fettucine noodles provides a nice foil to the delicate sauce.

And I love making fresh pasta.  Rolled out thinly enough, the ribbons of pasta get an almost silky texture that will spoil you in a hurry.

We have tried countless variations on basil pesto, sometimes using nuts, other times omitting them, occasionally varying the ratio of olive oil to basil, and employing different cheeses as we see fit.  This time I went with a recipe from How to Cook Everything, and we were crazy about it.  A small amount of toasted nuts were included, which added a little richness to the texture and provided a welcome ever-so-slightly smoky flavor.  The flavor of the basil was still bright and clear though, allowing the fresh herb to shine in the best of ways.

This will be our new go-to version for sure.  One pound of basil, weighed while still on the stem, was enough to make three batches of the sauce, two of which were frozen for future use, and now, only three or four days later, the plants have already leafed out again.  I decree this a perfect year for herbs.  And for pesto.

Especially if I take up rabbit hunting...


BASIL PESTO (adapted from How to Cook Everything), makes enough to serve with one pound of pasta

Note: if freezing, omit the Parmesan for now and stir in after thawing.

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, stems discarded
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 Tbs walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more if needed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more to grate on top of the finished dish
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a food processor or blender, combine the basil, salt, garlic, nuts and oil, and process until basil is finely chopped.  More oil can be added if you prefer the sauce to be thinner (or an extra drizzle of olive oil can be added to the finished dish).
  2. Stir the Parmesan in by hand.
  3. Toss with cooked and drained pasta, finishing the dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan, and adding a couple grinds of black pepper if desired.


Beth said...

My flowery basil thanks you for this post.

Sarah Beam said...

I have been worried about your flowery basil. Shall I come by and do some snipping for you?


Sarah, Can this be frozen? I know not ideal but I;d like to have some on hand when my daughter arrives and my Basil is ready to rock n' roll now! .

Beth said...

Aw girl. You are too much. But if you insist... you know where to find me. ;-)

Sarah Beam said...

Secret Pepper Person - this pesto freezes wonderfully. Omit the Parmesan before freezing, and add after thawing the pesto.


Hooray tank you! Can't wait to go get started. It has been pouring rain morning noon and night for 5 days so haven't picked anything. Of course now that I''m going back to work today after "vacation" it looks sunny.;.