Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Perfect Pesto

I have five basil plants growing outside. Three are sweet basil, one is thai basil, and one is a variety called pesto perpetua*. Clearly, I'm a girl who loves the plant. The key to any basil-lover's heart? Pesto, obviously. With some of my plants turning into veritable basil trees outside, I'm now in high production mode inside to freeze as much pesto as I can. Gotta get it while the gettin' is good!

Every pesto lover needs her own recipe. The open secret about pesto recipes, though, is that they're all pretty much the same. Now arugula walnut pesto, or a parsley pesto, or even a fresh oregano pesto... that's when things shift a bit. But with basil pesto, simplicity rules. There's a reason that Italian grandmothers everywhere use the same ingredients: the goal is simply to elevate the flavor of all that delicious basil you're growing.

I dare ya, right now - go open five different cookbooks and look up basil pesto - the differences in ingredient amounts shift only incrementally, don't they? So when I call this recipe "Perfect Pesto," it's not because I think it's a better recipe than Bittman's or Batali's or De Laurentiis' or whoever's. It's the pesto that's perfect for me, in the tiny ways it's different from theirs. Your perfect pesto will differ slightly from mine, too. But we're all eating the same goodness; such is the beauty of the dish. And really, none of us can go wrong.

Maggie's Perfect Pesto 

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus one pinch
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parm
In a blender or food processor**, pulse all ingredients except olive oil until finally chopped. With machine running in spurts, gradually add in the olive oil until you've reached the consistency you like. Transfer pesto to a bowl and mix in the cheese with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Notes on Freezing Pesto

  • Ice cube trays are your best friends for freezing pesto. They make it super-simple to pop out a cube to use as a spread, or pop out a few to use for pasta.

  • Don't mix in the cheese when you're making pesto for your freezer. I'd always read this but never knew why, and then finally found an explanation somewhere: the cheese will turn bitter in the freezer, changing the taste of your perfect pesto. Much better to mix your freshly grated Parm right into your thawed cubes.

*So far I've just been using my mature sweet basil plants. I'll report back on the pesto I eventually make with my pesto perpetua plant once it has some time to grow. I was too intrigued by the name to pass it up when I saw it!

**MiniPreps work too! It's what I've used for years... until the beautiful day when I go get my adult food processor, that is! Of course, you can really do it Italian grandmother style and not use any machinery whatsoever. But I make mayo by hand, so my conscience is clear about using a machine for pesto.


  1. oooh, I'm glad you posted this. I've been meaning to make some pesto to freeze!

  2. Yummmmmm. When I make pesto with the mini-prep, I can only blend about 2 T at a time... SO ANNOYING! The Big Girl Cuisinart is my One Christmas Wish this year!

  3. Holy macaroni, your basil plant is even more impressive now than when you last posted pictures of it. I'm pretty sure you've discovered basil steroids and are holding out on the rest of us. Not cool.

    The pesto looks delish!

  4. Yum! Central market sells walnut and poblano pesto that is delicious too! I am so very jealous about that garden of yours!

  5. @H: 'Tis the season!

    @K: Hmmm... your mini-prep does sound like it's ready to be retired. I can make this entire batch in mine, even though the motor smells bad if I go full-steam instead of pulsing. But regardless... big girl machines under all our trees this year!

    @M: Nice eagle eyes on the basil! It's definitely huger than ever. And still 'roid-free!

    @MT: Don't go making me miss Central Market even more than I already do... unfair!


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