Basil Pesto

My basil is abundant and ready for pesto! This is an easy recipe that you make in the food processor and it freezes well. I’m making a large batch which is a good idea when you have this much basil. This pesto has excellent flavour and a vibrant colour thanks to the beautiful green ingredients. There are different kinds of pesto but Basil Pesto is my favourite. This version has a little something extra that helps keep the colour vibrant and also adds a little kick of extra nutrition.

Pesto

The secret ingredient is spinach. It’s not typically used in traditional pesto but any chance to sneak in a little something to enhance the nutritional value of food is a great idea. There’s also a little parsley too. It’s optional but if you have some in your herb garden, toss in a handful.

Start by toasting some pine nuts. They’re expensive but you don’t need too much. I use 2/3 of a cup because that’s how much is in a 100 gram package. Some people substitute different kinds of nuts but I say they’re just being cheap!

Toasted Pine Nuts

Toasting nuts and seeds brings out their best flavour. Put them in a dry frying pan and toast over medium-low heat, watching them closely and shaking the pan, flipping them a few times to keep them moving around and evenly browning. Once they start to get a bit of colour and are giving off a nice aroma, remove them from the heat and let them cool. You can also toast them in the oven but you need to keep a close eye on them. I’ve left them a bit too long a few times and throwing out $15 worth of pine nuts is painful!

toasted pine nuts

These are nicely toasted and just need to cool while you assemble your other ingredients.

While they’re cooling, go out and pick the basil. Use a gentle hand and try to avoid the ones with cobwebs or bird poop. Fill your container with 8 cups, loosely packed. They do tend to bruise easily so don’t worry if you notice a few dark spots. The spinach will help hide that.

Give them a quick rinse and a good spin in the salad spinner. Do the same with the spinach and parsley.

basil pesto

It’s amazing how much water you remove from greens using a spinner. This is after a second spin, after already removing about a cup of water.

basil pesto

Now get all your other ingredients together. Peel and smash the garlic with the side of a knife. Actually reverse that. Smash the garlic with the side of a knife first, then the peel should come off easily. Smashing them before adding them to the food processor helps prevent them from getting stuck on the blade and not chopping up.

smashed garlic

I’m using 4 cloves because they’re huge, but the rule of thumb is 1 small clove per cup of basil.  That’s my rule.  You can add more or less, this isn’t chemistry! Just be sure to use REAL Parmesan cheese for best results.

Add the garlic and some salt to the food processor and pulse until well chopped.  You need more salt than you think. Even though there’s lots of salty Parmesan, you still need about a teaspoon of salt. Add your greens and pine nuts and pulse until finely chopped. You’ll have to add the greens in batches unless you have a giant food processor. Mine was a wedding gift from 30 years ago. The marriage only lasted 10 years but my retro Braun is still going strong!

Grate your parmesan, add to the processor and pulse a few times.

Now with the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow stream and run until well pureed. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice in and season with more salt and freshly ground black pepper.

basil pesto

I freeze this in small freezer bags in smaller portions, maybe about 1/3 of a cup.

basil pesto

Keep some to use right away.

How to make pesto pasta

Basil Pesto is excellent as a simple dressing for pasta (or my favourite….gnocchi!). Just cook any style pasta, save some of the cooking liquid, toss with a few tablespoons of pesto and add cooking liquid in small amounts until well blended and creamy. Top with more freshly grated parmesan and black pepper.

basil pesto pasta

Here’s the recipe:

Basil Pesto

Ingredients

8 C lightly packed basil leaves, rinsed and dried
1 handful Italian parsley and 1 handful baby spinach, rinsed and dried
4 large cloves garlic or 8 small
1½ C grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
⅔ C pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 C extra virgin olive oil
1-2 tsp lemon juice, about ¼ of a lemon
salt and pepper to taste

Method

Lightly toast pine nuts in a frying pan over low-medium heat until they start to colour and have a nice aroma. Cool. Peel and crush garlic cloves. Add to processor with salt until well chopped. Add basil, parsley, spinach and pine nuts. Pulse until well chopped. Add in stages if necessary to make room. Add Parmesan and pulse a few times. Slowly pour stream of olive oil into processor while running until all ingredients are blended. Squeeze in lemon juice and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and season with more salt if necessary.

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