Garden Notes: Basil Pesto

August 20, 2011

I have noticed that there is a large, not very sociable locust (or grasshopper?) that fumbles about in my basil plants every time I go to pick veggies out of my community garden plot. He does leave appreciative nibbles all throughout the basil patch, so I can’t really be annoyed with someone who is obviously enjoying himself so much and who is so tidy about his munching. In the long run there is plenty of basil for both of us.

In the summer months, particularly in August when tomatoes, basil and summer squash are in abundance, I tend to make a lot of pasta dishes, tossing warm noodles with barely sauteed vegetables and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. My favourite noodles are cappelini, corkscrews (for warm pasta salad) and a new discovery: pappardelle (especially tasty with a hearty meat sauce).

Last night I made up a batch of pesto with basil from the garden which I tossed up with fresh peas and pappardelle for my supper. (I was overly generous with the garlic– used five large cloves, which I would say is excessive– so the following recipe (adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook with the yellow cover) is more correct. But if you like garlic and don’t mind walking around smelling of it for the next few days, then by all means add more.

For supper tonight, a wedge of toasted foccacia with fresh mozzarella, a generous slather of pesto, and slices of tomato has me rolling around on the kitchen floor in raptures.

Basil Pesto

3 garlic loves
1/2 cup pine nuts OR lightly toasted walnuts (can do in a dry fry pan over medium heat)
1 tsp salt (can cut salt to 1/2 tsp but the saltiness means you don’t need extra in your pasta)
1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
2/3 cup coarsely grated Parmigiana-Reggiano
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves (with or without a little stem)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil.

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Have ready a big bowl of ice water. Turn the water off and drop all the basil in (to blanch it) then quickly transfer the leaves to the ice bath to stop them cooking. Spread leaves out onto some paper towels and roll them up to dry them. The blanching keeps the leaves and the resulting pesto nice and green. If you don’t care about the colour or are planning to eat the whole batch at once, you could always skip the blanching process. In a food processor or blender (if blender, rough chop the ingredients ahead of time), chop the garlic finely. Stop motor then add nuts, cheese, salt, pepper and basil. Process until finely chopped. (if you want to freeze, keep the cheese out although I always just blend it in anyway.). With motor running, add oil in a steady stream, blending until incorporated by not completely smooth.

Makes about a cup. Keeps in fridge for 1+ week. Store with surface covered with plastic wrap.

When adding to pasta, for every two parts pesto, whisk in one part of hot pasta cooking water into the pesto you are about to use and then add to your pasta. But you probably already know that. 🙂

I sadly did not make it out to Capetown this summer for my nephew’s eighth birthday. But thought I’d share this accomplished, “blog worthy” vegan and wheat free cake. My sister in law is a genius…