Thursday, October 2, 2014

Harvesting the Basil for Delicious Pesto

One of our basil patches, in a photo from a month ago.

I finally finished harvesting some basil to freeze for use over the winter. A packet of basil seeds can yield more than you know what to do with in August and September, but there's nothing like enjoying pesto in January, when fresh basil costs $4.00 for a few leaves. Frost is around the corner, so it's time to harvest some to put by for colder days.

I picked the leaves over two evenings. The first time was about an hour before sunset, and I was stung on my finger by a bumblebee that had secreted itself under a leaf (ow!). I leave the flowers on just for the bees, so I can't blame them, but it still hurt. So the next evening, I waited until after it was dark to cut a large shrub at the base and brought it to my front steps to pick the leaves off by the front porch light. That was almost worse, as a number of disgusting slugs had taken up residence on the underside of some of the leaves because night had fallen. I didn't even know I had slugs here, but the ones I saw were quite small, and haven't caused damage to my hostas, so I guess I should consider myself lucky after hearing about what our British garden blog friends have to deal with. But the slugs were still gross to encounter with my fingers. (Bleagh!)

Anyway, I picked (with some help from my husband and two children), two 5-gallon buckets of leaves, and brought them inside, where I washed them in my salad spinner. (I washed and spun them several times, in case any slugs escaped my notice -- yuck!)

Washing the leaves.

Then I got out my extra-large food processor (that I use only for large tasks such as this) and used it to chop up the leaves, adding plenty of olive oil.

This is my largest mixing bowl, so I ended up with quite a
generous amount.

I used a 1/2 cup measuring cup to measure it out into snack-size
Ziplock bags, and sealed them up (I apologize for the blurry photo;
it's hard to take a photo with one oily hand!)

I ended up with 22 Ziplock bags full.

Then, I sealed the snack bags in a large freezer bag.

Why do I do all this? For only one reason: making pesto, one of Italian cooking's most wonderful classic summer dishes.

The recipe I use for pesto is one from the venerable Marcella Hazan's "The Classic Italian Cookbook," and it is truly excellent. I give the jist of it below:

Blender Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts (I crush them in a mortar)
2 cloves garlic (I use a garlic press to mince them, and use 2 if they're small cloves, only 1 if they are larger)
1 teaspoon salt (or perhaps a bit less, I would taste it first before adding all of this)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano pecorino cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

1. Blend the first five ingredients in a food processor (unless you're using pre-processed basil from the freezer, as I do; in that case, just mix all the ingredients together by hand in a bowl and decrease the amount of olive oil, since the basil is already frozen in oil)
2. Pour into a bowl (if you used the food processor for step 1) and mix in the two cheeses, then beat in the softened butter
3. Serve over pasta. (I like to make this dish with grilled sweet Italian sausages and tomatoes fresh from garden drizzled with olive oil, salt and a few chopped basil leaves.)

I usually don't even measure the ingredients at all, because I don't think you can mess up this recipe -- all these ingredients taste delicious together, no matter what! I do think I might usually add more cheese than the recipe calls for, and add less salt because of that. But I think the addition of the softened butter really enhances the taste, making it richer than many pesto recipes, so be sure to include it.

I can't wait to enjoy this summeriest of foods when it's below zero. Actually, thinking about it is making me crave some pesto right now, so perhaps I'll have to go out and pick a few more leaves for pesto tonight.

Thanks for reading! -Beth


  1. It looks good, Beth! I've never made pesto although I enjoy eating it. Going to our favorite Italian restaurant tonight for our 38th anniversary - maybe I'll have some pesto with my pasta. :)
    We have had more and larger slugs this year than ever before. Crazy! Global warming?
    Have a wonderful wknd, Beth.

    1. Thanks for reading, Beth. You should definitely try making pesto at home -- it's super easy if you have your own basil (and basil can also be found pretty inexpensively at the store now from local growers too). I blame our rainy summer for the slugs. Very unusual! My best wishes to you and your husband for your anniversary; I hope you have a lovely evening out! :-) Beth

  2. Oh, what a lovely lot of basil you have, much more than I! How nice that you can process so much of it. I go ahead and make my pesto sauce completely and then freeze it, as you saw, in ice cube trays. I toast the pine nuts in a cast iron skillet first, and add them to the food processor right at the end, so they don't get completely mashed up and lost in the mix. My recipe doesn't call for salt, but I think I should add some because it sometimes seems to need just a tad more flavor. Also no butter; I'll have to try it that way sometime! We've been quite dry, so not many slugs here this year. I get completely creeped out when I unexpectedly touch one! --Kimberley

    1. HI Kimberley, your recipe sounds delicious! I bet toasting the pine nuts would improve their flavor -- I'll have to try that the next time I make it. Thanks for reading! -Beth

  3. Beth I love this recipe...a few differences that I will have to try!!

    1. Hi Donna, Thanks for stopping by -- and I hope you enjoy the recipe. Best Regards. -Beth

  4. I also make my own pesto but in my recipe is no garlic and butter. I definitely go to try your recipe now, it really sounds delicious. Thank you.

    1. Hi Janneke, If you have large garlic cloves, you might only need one clove, instead of two (I think our cloves, at least here in the US, are probably far larger than traditional Italian ones), and I only use one if they're larger than usual. I hope you enjoy this recipe. Thanks for reading! -Beth