Saturday, August 7, 2021

PERFECT PESTO


HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  For the past two summers, we have had a gorgeous gorgeous basil plant in a big pot. The basil leaves are glorious, glossy and green, and it is incredible fun to prune them and pinch them and encourage the plant to get bigger.

But I always thought making pesto was difficult. It always seemed like it would take too long. I would need more WAY basil that I had. Once I actually used my garden basil and then added basil from the grocery store to make the pesto. That seemed silly. Plus, you can buy fresh pesto so easily.

But bottom line, there was never enough in my plant to make enough pesto. Not the amount that the recipe called for. 

But bear with me here. One day, maybe a week ago, I realized that I did not have to make the amount of pesto that the recipe called for. I could make however much I wanted.

This was a big revelation.

So I thought – – all I need is basil, and olive oil, and pine nuts, and parmesan cheese, and garlic and salt and pepper. So I looked at the proportions in the recipe that made about three million pounds of pesto, and cut it down. And then--winged it. 


I didn't even measure, I just threw everything in to the blender, basil, garlic, pine nuts, oil, Parmesan cheese--hit the red button. 
And presto! Pesto.

Just enough! And perfect! And we had it with our own homegrown little tomatoes.

I am so proud of myself.

Do you have a pesto secret? Do you make it? Do you freeze it? I am obsessed. 

Tell me, reds and readers! 

65 comments:

  1. There’s always basil in the herb garden, so it’s easy to whip up some pesto. Like you, I just toss everything into the food processor and the pesto comes out perfectly. I only make it in small batches, so I haven’t tried to freeze it.

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    1. I have a mini food process (I think it holds up to two cups), which is perfect for small batches.

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    2. It freezes great in zip lock bags with the air squeezed out.
      Most people I know freeze it without the cheese and add that when using it.

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  2. Because of my nut allergy, I have to avoid pesto, sadly. I loved it when I had it.

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    1. Mark, you can make it with hulled sunflower seeds! They are a great alternative to pine nuts.

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    2. Edith, that's a great tip. I have nephews who are nut allergic; their mom loves pesto but never makes it because of that. I'll pass on the sunflower seed idea to her.

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    3. Mark, are you allergic to all nuts? Might be worth checking out if you’re not sure. I’ve made pesto with whatever nuts are in the pantry. Hope you find the substitute.

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    4. Yes, Mark, there must be lots of solutions! Wonder if it would work with bread crumbs?

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  3. I feel like I'm so underachieving here. I do like pesto, but I buy it at Sam's. It's really good, and since I don't grow basil, it's how I get Pesto.

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    1. Well, yeah..that's what I mean! It's fresh and good and not..messy. xoxo

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  4. Congratulations! I make pesto every year (for decades now) and freeze it in small containers, but there's nothing like a fresh batch. My recipe, from my great-uncle Jimmy who was US Consul in Genoa, leaves out the cheese, to be applied later when the pasta is hot. I grow my own garlic, too.

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  5. I do the same, toss the basil, nuts, olive oil, cheese, and garlic, turn on the blender and you have pesto! I have never frozen any.

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  6. I don't make pesto but then I don't have a garden or even a potted plant outside. If I do purchase fresh basil, I usually use it with beautifully ripe summer tomatoes and mozzarella on excellent sourdough bread.

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    1. Deanna, that's delicious. There used to be a restaurant in Harvard Square that served that as a meal So good.

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  7. I've made pesto from anything green -- spinach, carrot tops, mint, beet greens, parsley, basil, any combination of anything. This is the first year I didn't plant a herb garden but we buy what we need.

    We were late getting our tomatoes in, end of June, and July was one of the coldest on record. However, the plants are seven feet tall and absolutely FULL of green maters. I think we will be able to start harvesting this week as it is finally hot, 97 predicted.

    If I make a large batch of pesto, I freeze it in small quantities. This works very well and is a treat on pasta long about December!

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    1. Ann, are you in New England? We've had an unusually cold and record-breaking wet July; few summer veggies are bursting ripe as they usually are by this time but everything is GROWING like gangbusters.

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    2. Frozen pesto is also a great addition to winter stews and soups!

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    3. Julia, I’m in Rochester.
      Summer started yesterday and will peak this week. Autumn by Labor Day and winter the week after.

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    4. LOL, Ann. I've been to Rochester in winter! Still giggling.

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    5. Yes, we still have lots of green tomatoes, too..but they're getting there!

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  8. That's the best way--throw everything in the blender, put the lid on, and see what happens. You can correct the seasoning afterwards. In May, before I planted basil, I asked my husband to pick up prepared pesto at the grocery store. Because he's a scientist, he read the ingredients list on every container. KALE. Grocery store pesto is made with kale.

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    1. NO. Way. If I went to the grocery store, I would instantly look. CAN THAT BE?? The fresh kind of pesto, or the kind in a jar?

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  9. I love homemade pesto, but I didn't plant any herbs again this year - I'm still focusing on pushing back/exterminating/pruning the overgrowth of the past few years.

    We are, however, having a bumper crop of summer apples and blackberries. The cooler, super-rainy weather has been terrific for fruits and berries (and for all the flowers my young friend Jess has been moving about and transplanting in my flower beds.)

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    1. It's been a great blueberry year, Julia! Both with my home bushes and those at the local farm. Am going picking again Monday - gotta stock the freezer for winter baking.

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  10. We had a huge blackberry crop this year, too, Julia. Steve picked like a demon so I could freeze them before we left for Kenya, so I have almost three gallons for pies, cobblers and jams.

    My basil was pathetic this year, and I don't know why. I bought a half truckload of what was supposed to be half topsoil and half mushroom compost, which should have made excellent garden soil. But barely anything germinated, and okra, beans, and squash that I planted in grow bags early in May are still only a few inches tall. The basil looks anemic and spindly.

    I suspect something bad in the soil, but I don't have the heart to test it.

    Most years, though, including last year, I make gobs of pesto from my own basil and homegrown garlic. I freeze it in silicone ice cube molds, each one holding two tablespoons of pesto. They pop right out when fully frozen, and then get stored in airtight bags until I'm ready to use them.

    I've also used garlic scapes to make pesto, which is really good, just different than the typical basil variety. Both kinds are wonderful with packaged or frozen gnocchi, ravioli, or noodles. I also dehydrate cherry tomatoes when we have a big crop and keep them in the freezer. They're easy to rehydrate with a bit of boiling water. Along with some dry-fried pine nuts added to the pasta it makes a great dish.

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    1. Oh, dehydrate the tomatoes? DO you need an appliance for that? (Asks the city girl...)

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    2. I use a dehydrator, but you can also use a slow oven for a long time. Slice them to about 1/4" thick, and lay them on parchment paper on cookie sheets. Put in a 250 oven until they are completely dry, just short of being crisp. It can take anywhere from 1 1/2 to 6 hours.

      Martha Stewart's directions are good, although you don't need to mix the kinds of tomatoes, in my opinion. It's probably better if they're all the same so they take the same amount of time: https://www.marthastewart.com/339310/oven-dried-tomatoes

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  11. I prefer chimichurri sauce. It has fewer calories, and really brightens most foods.
    I don't use white vinegar -- I prefer a softer blend like apple vinegar. I do use italian parsley does that count?

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    1. Of course it does!

      Yum, chimichurri!

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    2. Oh, yes, I forgot about that! We have lots of parsley..I will look that RICHT up! Thank you, Coralee! DO you have a favorite recipe?

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    3. Coralee, I LOVE chimichurri and put it on everything. I will use Italian parsley and cilantro. Yum.

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    4. Yum! Chimichurri is fantastic. Great tip for the apple vinegar. Now I want to grill some chicken.

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  12. I love making pesto from my homegrown basil. Here's my secret: you can use walnuts instead of pine nuts! I always have walnuts in my pantry but have to make a trip to the store for pine nuts.

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    1. That's great! Yes, I read that somewhere, too--Brilliant!

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  13. Love making pesto. Pesto on spaghetti with fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden is a staple this time of year. I also grow garlic and make pesto from the garlic scapes. It gets frozen then used throughout the winter to perk up our dinners. Yummy.

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    1. SO great. Yes, I've done it with garlic scapes--I thought I was so brave, when I'd ordered scallions from the grocery, and the scapes came instead, so I thought--okay, google time! And that pasta dish is SO great!

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  14. My pesto is very much throw all into food processor. But thinking back I still have my Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking, and Summer Cooking, which I bought back in the ‘60’s. But to your point Hank, one doesn’t need a truckload of basil to make enough for a dinner for two. I’m not growing anything this summer, so much else to look after, but I will buy some basil and put some up for the winter. There is always a cube or two in my freezer and I use the same ingredients minus the basil with other dark leafy greens only kale needs blanching. InED’s French Country Cooking, there is a recipe for Pestou, a French version of pesto made without nuts in it. David says 6 sprigs of basil, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 1/2+oz butter and a pinch of salt. She recommends this for spaghetti but pesto for gnocchi. I’m sure this is more than anyone needed to know but I love my old cookery books.

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  15. We do have a hardy basil plant! Since Hub is the cook around here, I will share your recipe. He’ll love it!

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    1. Yes, it is SO good! We also have it tossed with cherry tomatoes and tiny mozzarella pearls and crusty bread.

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  16. Add me to the pesto fan club. We have three pots and they yield enough for a made-fresh batch to go with capellini. yum! I put the basil in last, once the other ingredients are well mixed. Don't want to over-pulp the precious herb.

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    1. Oh! I never thought of that! That is quite a brilliant idea. Thank you! I will do it that way from now on!

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  17. Here in Atlanta, I don’t always have pine nuts in my pantry but I always have pecans. They make a delicious pesto!

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    1. Yes, I have tried walnuts but not pecans. That’s so interesting! And there’s no way that wouldn’t be absolutely delicious! Thank you!

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  18. What a great idea, Hank. I'm always a bit overwhelmed by the quantities I see in recipes and don't want to totally wipe out my basil plants. Can you share your proportions with us? I have some spinach and cheese ravioli in the freezer and fresh pesto would be fab!

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    1. Well, I wish. But I made it up. But I think--5 parts basil, 1 part pine nuts, 1 part cheese, 1/2 part garlic. Then...1 part oil, and then mix, and then see if you need more oil. You know what color and texture it should be, so...
      Does that make sense?

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  19. I've never made pesto but I did copy Edith's recipe from her MLK posting a while back. This is the first summer I haven't grown any herbs. I have chives in a pot but they survived the big freeze and came back on their own. Basil was too delicate to do that. Even the rosemary croaked this winter. Between the weather extremes and the pandemic I haven't done any planting for a couple of summers now. I have a bumper crop of weeds though if anyone knows how to put them to use.

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  20. Sounds super Hank! I love making pesto from fresh basil. It's the perfect thing to toss together in a food processor. Alas, none of my basil grew this year, so next year I am potting them! When pine nuts became so outrageously expensive, I left them out. Discovered it really made no difference. Good quality olive oil, on the other hand, is a must. I use pesto on pasta, mix it in my homemade sauces, and drop dollops on frozen pizza. I have a friend who spreads it on crackers. That gave me the idea to spread it on bruschetta toast - yum.

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    1. Exactly! Any kind of oily nuts will work. And arugula works instead of basil! A nice peppery delicious taste. Really ANY green thing and ANY nuts. Ohh..yes, on bruschetta! Brilliant!

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  21. Ah, you have joined the ranks of the traditional cooks, not recipes but touch and taste, as my grandma did. Improvising with what one has and to one's own preferences. Brava! <3

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  22. HANK,

    Though I love Basil, I am not a fan of pine nuts. Pesto is iffy for me. If I was your neighbor, I would buy some basil from you. Here in CA, once in a while we get lucky and find basil at the local grocery shop. We are more likely to find basil at the farmer's market.

    Diana

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    1. I would give it to you! But now's the perfect time--it's in season! Here, at least. xx

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    2. Aww thanks! I think the fires in California may be affecting where we can find basil?

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    3. Oh that is such a tragic thought…..xx

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  23. I make pesto every time we have a large enough crop of fresh basil. Since I'm not a fan of pine nuts I use macadamia nuts which turn almost creamy when processed (which I do first with some olive oil before adding the remaining ingredients). Pesto freezes beautifully and I like defrosting a little bit and brushing it on top of fish fillets with a sprinkle with panko crumbs, and bake for a quick dinner. I'll definitely try Edith's sunflower seeds substitution when I have guests with nut allergies!

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  24. In Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (my bible for Italian food), Marcella recommends (well, actually, says you must, as Marcella is pretty bossy) beating a couple tablespoons of softened butter into the pesto with a wooden spoon until it is nicely amalgamated. It makes a wonderfully silky pesto!

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