That’s because I grow basil which loves sunshine and hot weather. This year’s bumper crop yielded a record 51 containers of pesto, a rich sauce consisting of basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, oil, and Parmesan cheese, all crushed together. Pesto is the shortened name for pestato, which is Italian for to pound or crush.
I can’t imagine those little old Italian women slaving over their mortars and pestels, grinding enough basil for the giant batch I made with my friend, Ann Dekorsi, at our 10th annual Pesto Party on Friday night. It took both of us about three and a half hours, even with my trusty Cuisinart.
She buys the ingredients in bulk at Costco and we bring our own plastic containers, saved from year to year. This year, each container, about one cup, cost us $3.50. Supermarkets sell it for twice that much.
If you make it in bulk like we do, hose off the basil in the yard, then bring it indoors. Use a salad spinner to dry it. Buy your cheeses whole, if possible, and grate them yourself to save money. Use good-quality ingredients.
And remember your stash during the holidays. A loaf of French bread, a container or two of pesto and a jar of sun-dried tomatoes, packed in a pretty basket, make a fabulous gift for foodies.
Enjoy It Many Different Ways
Ann’s husband, Pete, eats pesto on his turkey sandwiches almost every day. Ann likes it spread on French bread and topped with sliced Roma tomatoes. I love it mixed with whole wheat pasta and cherry tomatoes—my favorite summer recipe. It’s also delicious used as a substitute for tomato sauce on homemade pizza.
If you aren’t growing your own basil, you can find it at the farmer’s markets. You’ll need about 2 cups for our recipe which calls for walnuts instead of the more expensive pine nuts.
If you’re new to pesto, don’t freak out when the rich green color starts to go dark after it’s been sitting awhile. It doesn’t affect the flavor.
Also, if you freeze it, like we do, and you pull a container from the freezer and can’t wait for it to defrost, pop it into the microwave for only 15 seconds. Remove it, break up the clumps, stir, and put it back into the microwave for another 15 seconds. Cook it for too long and you’ll end up with a gooey mess.
We experiment with different amounts of oil and have found the recipe below to be the best for pesto if you’re spreading it on sandwiches or using it for pizza. Use a full cup of oil if using it as a sauce for pasta. We make some of both and mark the containers.
If you don’t have a food processor, you can make it in a blender, but it doesn’t seem to blend as easily.
Joan and Ann’s Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
4 large cloves of garlic
1 cup walnuts
Slightly less than 1 cup good-quality olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (do NOT use the stuff in the green can)
1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Process the basil, garlic and walnuts in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until finely chopped.
Turn off machine and scrape down the bowl with a spatula.
With the machine running, pour in the oil in a thin, steady stream.
Add the cheeses, a big pinch of salt, and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process about 20 seconds to combine. Use as is or freeze in plastic containers.
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So do you think you’ll make this yourself? If you’ve already tried pesto, what’s your favorite way to eat it? (Admit it if you eat it right out of the blender bowl. I do!)
Want publicity for your Pesto Party or other homemade goodies? How about hosting a pesto-making contest at your company, inviting customers and clients to serve as judges, and then let the local TV and newspapers know?