In the midst of summer as we are, our gardens are catching up after the wet and cool start of the growing season. It will be awhile before my tomatoes are ready so they will get lots of tender loving care in the weeks ahead. But my tiny herb garden is thriving, and my basil is the best I’ve ever grown.
Naturally, I feel pressure to utilize these fragrant, glossy, emerald leaves as soon as possible, and as often as possible. The standard suggestion is “Make pesto!” And I have done that in years past. I like pesto, but I realize I’ve never been ga-ga about it like many folks are. In fact, when I make a large batch and freeze or refrigerate it for later use, I just ignore it. I never use it up.
As I watered the flowers and vegetables this morning, I knew I had to use some of that beautiful basil today, so pesto it would be. But only a small batch to go with pasta and a couple chicken thighs I had pulled from the freezer. They would be delicious grilled, skin-on. I did de-bone them, just to open them up and maybe speed the cooking a bit, and learned it’s not easy to remove the bone from a chicken thigh. If I do it again, I’ll study up on it beforehand.
The pesto recipe I use is from my old stand-by, The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, circa late 1980’s. I had not heard of pesto in the 1980’s. But the BHGC was on the cutting edge of trendiness, I suppose. Although pesto has been made in Italy for centuries, it didn’t catch on here in the states until the 1980’s. BHGC was all over that one.
I titled this blogpost “Pesto Love Affair” and then proceeded to explain I’ve never been crazy about pesto. And until today, I wasn’t. But putting the ingredients in the food processor, starting with the cubed parmesan cheese and processing to a nice granular consistency, then adding the walnuts, garlic cloves, basil leaves–barely 2 cups, eyeballing it–processing it into that luscious consistency, then drizzling in the olive oil, it came together magically. I didn’t season with salt and pepper until I tasted it. Then a generous grind of pepper and just a pinch of salt and another teaspoon of olive oil and…whizzzzz…whizzzzz…it was done and delicious, and I was falling in love.
My husband and son both agreed it was the best pesto I’d ever made. What else would they say? But it was true. The best ever. And I’m not sure why. To me pesto is usually a bit over the top, too much of something, but I don’t know what. It’s a concoction of several strong-flavored ingredients. Perfumey basil, sharp parmesan, and pungent garlic each deliver a heavy blow, and add in the traditional pine nuts and it’s flavor overload in my opinion. Perhaps replacing the “piney-ness” of the pine nuts with the mellow nuttiness of walnuts helps balance the other ingredients.
Or maybe it was just the right day to make pesto, from my own home-grown basil, at the peak of its hypnotic aromatic powers. Cooking with the seasons brings the utmost flavor and satisfaction to the table.
So I’ll stick with the BHGC for pesto, and keep it fresh and spontaneous. And maybe my love for pesto will endure.
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Fresh Basil Pesto
Adapted from The Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook
- Parmesan cheese, block (or 1/2 cup grated)*
- 1/2 cup toasted (and cooled) walnuts, rough chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, sort of firmly packed, but don’t go crazy
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
*You can buy grated parmesan cheese, but the kind in the shaker can is not recommended. Fresh grated is available in tubs in the “fancy cheese” section of the grocery. If you use block parm cheese, then follow the steps below…
Cut the block parm cheese into half-inch size cubes, up to about 1/2 to 2/3 cup, cubed. Put the cubes into the food processor bowl, close the lid and process until the consistency of very coarse cornmeal. You should end up with about 1/2 cup grated cheese.
To the grated cheese add walnuts, garlic, and basil leaves. Process this mixture until well combined. Next, drizzle in the olive oil while processing the mixture until everything comes together. Stop processing and taste for seasoning. Add salt/pepper as desired and process again for a few seconds. Add more olive oil or a bit of water if pesto seems too stiff. But don’t over process the mixture.
Use immediately or store in the fridge in a glass jar covered with a layer of olive oil, or in a plastic container or dish covered with plastic wrap directly in contact with the pesto. Both these storing methods will keep the pesto bright green. Use within one week. It may also be frozen in portion sizes if desired. Makes about 3/4 cup.
For this dish simply stir pesto (the amount is up to you) into hot cooked spaghetti, along with a bit of pasta cooking water to create a thin sauce to coat the noodles. Top with fresh diced tomatoes, sliced chicken, and a dollop of pesto. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.