Last weekend I made pesto, and let me tell you, it made our kitchen smell AMAZING! My love affair with pesto started a few years ago when I had basil growing like a weed in our garden. What to do with all of that basil? Pesto, of course. I followed a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa the first time, just to understand the process and typical ingredients. That is something I often do…use the recipe once, and then go freestyle to make it my own from then on.
The basic ingredients for making pesto are basil, grated cheese, nuts, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The beautiful thing about making pesto is that all of the ingredients go into the food processor, and it does all of the work for you. Once you have the basic ingredients, you can deviate with other herbs and a variety of nuts and spices. For this most recent batch of pesto, I used the traditional basil, but also added about a third of the herbs in fresh mint. Mint, by the way, is also growing like a weed in the garden! For the nuts, I used both walnuts and pine nuts. And for the cheese, I used both grated parmesan in the shaker bottle, as well as freshly grated parmesan.
These new additions took my old pesto experiences over the top! The mint gave such a freshness to the pesto and nicely complemented the basil. The combination of nuts also added a depth of flavor, and the two types of parmesan gave it a nice texture.
The steps to make pesto are very simple. First, collect about two cups of fresh basil leaves. Substitute a small portion of other herbs, such as mint or dill, if desired. Rinse and drain the herbs, remove all of the stems, and place in the food processor. Next, add 1/2 cup of nuts, and 1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese. Season with minced garlic, salt, pepper and a teaspoon of lemon juice, if desired. Puree in the food processor, and slowly add 1/3-1/2 cup of olive oil until pesto reaches the desired consistency. One of the surprises for me the first time I made pesto was how many basil leaves are required to make such a small amount of pesto. This recipe will make about 1-1 1/2 cups of pesto, which is a manageable amount to go through in a couple of weeks.
Store pesto in an airtight container and refrigerate. To keep the color bright green, float a thin layer of olive oil on top. When it comes time to use the pesto, just take out a couple of tablespoons and thin with a little olive oil. The batch I made before this one lasted 2-3 weeks and still tasted as fresh as day one.
We use pesto in a variety of recipes. Some of our favorites are to spread it on flatbread as a base for chicken artichoke pizza, as a spread on sandwiches, and to top fish or chicken breasts before baking. Basically, pesto adds a fresh, herby quality to almost anything you use it on. Recently, in an effort to use up some items in the refrigerator, I created a new recipe using pesto. We had some artichokes and sliced olives leftover from our flatbread pizzas, so I took grilled chicken breasts and topped them with pesto, artichokes, olives, pine nuts, and grated mozzarella cheese. I nestled the chicken breasts on a mixture of cauliflower and brown rice, baked until the cheese was melted, and dubbed it “Mediterranean Chicken.” It was so good, and a new household favorite!
In the past, I have purchased ready-made pesto at Costco, which is very good. The problem for us was that it was such a large quantity, it was hard to use it up before it went bad. If you haven’t made fresh pesto, I would recommend giving it a try. By making it yourself, you are allowed to control the amount, play with the ingredients, and the added benefit of making your kitchen smell AMAZING!