Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From Beautiful Basil to Perfect Pesto.

Last night, I spent a few hours in the large kitchen garden. The tomatoes are just a memory—dead vines entangled in a Texas weave. The cucumbers, while still producing, are an ugly sprawl of spotted leaves...and the Three Sisters garden is, sadly, down to two siblings. Honestly, I don't know how the Native Americans survived, because my Three Sisters garden never produces an edible ear of corn.

Maybe the Three Sisters garden is just an historical urban legend. Maybe those sisters really bickered and pulled each others' hair. I mean, really—how many sisters coexist without some squabbles? In our garden, the beans wrestled the stalks of corn to the ground, while the squash promptly suffocated it.

This is not the lovely legend I embraced.

As I cut out dead vines and harvested ten million hot peppers, I uncovered huge, lovely Genovese basil plants. I companion-planted the basil in the tomato bed last spring.

And then I forgot about it.

Actually, I planted basil a bit too enthusiastically. Basil grows in the tomato bed, the herb garden, the other herb garden, in pots on the balcony. I even sowed more seeds in a container two weeks ago, thinking we might need additional basil to last through the fall. Plus, of course, we needed all eight varieties of basil I grew.

All of the tiny basil plants thrived, growing into enormous, thick, deliciously scented bushes.

So last night, while I mourned the end of tomato season, I snipped Genovese basil branches, stuck them in a vase, and decided that today will be:


During the summer, our oldest son, Tyler, developed an affinity for pesto making...but not of his own accord. While home from college, we decided he would cook for the family one night per week. Not only did Tyler's dinner responsibility help me while I chauffeured the kids to various camps and lessons, but as a rising college senior, we thought it was time for him to learn how to cook. Velveeta Shells and Cheese, we told him, doesn't qualify.

Interestingly, the first few meals prepared by Chef Tyler were actually cooked by his very sweet (and patient) girlfriend. Tyler assisted. But finally, he took the leap and mastered a few entrees of his own—including pesto.

Pesto only sounds daunting. It's absurdly simple. 

The first time I needed pesto, I bought it. Now, I consider pesto from the store sacrilegious. Plus, honestly—basil is too easy to grow not to have a pot of it on your balcony. It is, however, not so easy to grow inside—so you'll want to make a large batch of pesto while the basil is fresh and in season, then freeze the pesto for mid-winter delicious dinners.

Tyler likes a thick pesto, but my version is more spreadable and sauce-like. Making pesto is quick, especially if you have a food processor. Some diehards swear that the only way to make true pesto is by grinding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. While it sounds very romantic, and Julia Child would approve, who really has time for pounding basil into mush?

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (I prefer Genovese)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 tablespoons pine nuts
3 garlic cloves, finely minced

Wash basil, checking undersides of leaves for any garden creatures. (You do not want the added protein of a slug in your pesto.) Dry well. Place the basil leaves in small batches into the food processor and chop well. Add 1/3 of the nuts and garlic, blending again. Add 1/3 of the Parmesan and blend while slowly adding about 1/3 of the olive oil. Let the oil drizzle into the mixture while blending. Stop frequently to scrape the sides of the food processor bowl.

Continue to add the ingredients 1/3 at a time, repeating until all ingredients are well blended. Served over pasta, use as a base for bruschetta, or dollop onto scallops. Pesto can be frozen for several months or refrigerated for up to one week.

There...wasn't that easy?

I plan to harvest more basil tomorrow, triple the recipe, and freeze in small batches so that we'll taste a bit of summer all winter long.

If you didn't grow your own basil, check with your local farmers' market. Usually, you can find a gorgeous bouquet of basil for a few dollars. Or visit Local Harvest to find a farmer near you.

It's worth it. I promise.


XO ~



  1. Sounds yummy (and easy) Julie. Thanks for the tips. Still would love the Peach Crisp recipe!

    1. Easy is the way I like it in the kitchen! The pesto is so quickly, and the peach crisp is also fairly fast--with the exception of peeling the peaches. Still, it's well worth it, and I hope you got the link to the recipe I sent! Enjoy!

  2. What??? No slugs in the pesto sauce??? They are sure everywhere. I am glad you use pine nuts and not walnuts...am not a walnut fan.

    1. Janet, I'm also not a fan of walnuts. I'm actually not much of a nut fan at all, but the pine nuts are pretty delicious! And--really, is there anything worse than ripping basil leaves only to find a slug in your hand?? BLAGH!

  3. I love basil, but mine never seems to grow that big.

    1. This variety--Genovese--tends to grow really large, as long as it has full sun and plenty of water. Some of the other varieties I grow don't get quite as big...but they're still delicious!

  4. Hello Fiona, It's "Pesto" time of year, I am doing the same with my Basil over here in England. I have made quite a few batches already. Best Wishes Daphne