In the midst of a damp, dreary, and cold afternoon, I decided I needed a little burst of sunshine. While it has been getting cooler in TX, a freeze hasn’t yet set in, and surprisingly I still have quite a bit of basil growing outside. Maybe “quite a bit” is an understatement. I’m estimating it to be about 4 lbs.
While basil craves heat, making pesto a summer food, I felt it calling my name yesterday afternoon. Pesto atop a hearty veggie soup with a side of socca. Pesto-ed socca optional. Quick, easy dinner. Done.
Pesto is a pretty simple and flexible recipe hailing from Italy. It’s an oil-based sauce known for topping a dish of pasta. If you don’t want to use basil, you can use another leafy green, like spinach, or herb, like parsley or cilantro. Heck, you can even make pesto from asparagus, or sun-dried tomatoes, or whatever else you can dream up. You can use traditional pine nuts or sub them for walnuts. Or leave nuts out altogether. While the classic recipe calls for parmesan cheese, you can omit this ingredient if you are dairy free and instead increase the salt and lemon juice to taste.
For this batch I opted to use a lot of lemon juice and not so much oil, while omitting the parmesan cheese and nuts. I also cut back hard on the oil because I really wanted the basil and lemon to smack my taste buds. Blasphemy, I know. But it works and served my purpose. My point? Be creative and let the food suit your needs.
Sunshine-Inducing Basil Pesto
Yield: about 1.5 C
Time: 10 minutes
~1 bunch (2-2.5 oz) fresh basil leaves, preferably sweet Italian/Genovese, leaves separated from stems and washed
2 cloves garlic, peel removed
.25 C pine nuts OR walnuts, preferably lightly toasted in a dry pan over low heat
.25 – .5 C grated parmesan cheese (optional)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
.5 C + 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus more for storage
sea salt, to taste
1. In a food processor or blender, add the basil leaves followed by the garlic, nuts, cheese (if using), lemon zest and juice, and a couple pinches of salt.
2. On low speed, start blending the basil mixture. Begin slowly pouring the olive oil into the bowl through the feed chute.
3. Once the oil is fully poured and the remaining ingredients have been blended, turn off the processor/blender and taste the pesto. Add salt or even extra lemon juice if needed. If the pesto is too thick, add a drizzle of oil or 1 tsp water and blend again until it’s to your liking.
4. Serve immediately or place in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for several weeks. To keep the surface of the pesto from oxidizing, be sure to add a thin layer of olive oil to the top of the jar.