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Homesteading and Livestock

Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.

PESTO! Full of Flavor

basilPesto is a combination of several high flavor ingredients that when melded together make a zesty, flavorful spread, dip, or topping! Basil is the main ingredient, and it at its peak during the hot summer months. When I plant basil in the early summer it will just sit there without growing much at all until the summer heat kicks in. I recently planted some in the hoophouse to see how it would do, and it is growing like mad! I knew it liked heat, but I was really surprised that it would thrive in the scorching heat of this summer compounded by the heat absorbed inside the hoophouse right now.

Basil has wide, green, petal shaped leaves. It is an annual that will grow well in most garden spots. If the plant tries to send up flowers, it will focus all it's energy on that, so it is good to pinch any flower shoots off. If an untended plant does flower and go to seed, I have had experience with good regrowth after cutting all of the seed-heads off. So, it may be worth the effort to dead-head a spent looking basil in hopes of another bout of luscious leaves. Harvest stems of leaves often; I like to leave about 1/3 of the plant to keep it growing healthily. If I am not using the basil quickly I just put the stems in a bowl of water, like a bouquet of flowers, and do not refrigerate. Before using I rinse, pick off the leaves, and dry them with a salad spinner.

Pesto is very personal. This is the recipe that I go by, but I usually use more basil and Garlic than called for, because I grow both. Pine nuts, olive oil and the cheese are more expensive and are high in fat, so I use less of them.

Basil Pesto 

  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves 
  • ½ bulb garlic, or one small bulb (at least 4 big cloves) pesto 
  • ½ c. Parmesan Cheese, finely shredded 
  • ½ c. Pine nuts (can be lightly toasted in a skillet for extra flavor) 
  • ½ c. olive oil 

pinch of salt and fresh ground pepper 

Process the basil and garlic slightly then add all other ingredients. Pulse just till blended and finely chopped. Store in the refrigerator up to a week, or can be frozen for up to a year.

I love pesto as a dip with tortilla chips or crackers. It's also delicious with cooked pasta. Pesto makes a pretty appetizer baked on a thin baguette slice then topped with a dollop of fresh mozzarella and a quarter of a cherry tomato. Small spoonfuls placed as a topping on a pizza before baking is very tasty as well.

Just a warning! 

One time I made pesto before bed. After eating a good portion of it and refrigerating the rest I headed to bed. Daniel was already there and after I had stopped to talk to him, he said, “Wow, there must be a skunk in the yard.” I assured him with a smile, “No, no skunk, it's just my breath!”. I had a good chuckle about my garlic breath and swiftly brushed my teeth. So, beware of potent breath after eating pesto!


photo credit:  basil growing in my hoophouse (top), parmesan cheese, garlic cloves and basil used to make pesto (bottom) 

sherry leverich tucker
8/8/2011 12:24:16 AM

Thank you so much for adding your helpful comments to this blog! I love the substitute nuts mentioned, and the different greens to use in place of basil. I will be trying those later this year when my basil has bit the dust. Shonya; that pesto and chicken hoagie sounds like a winner...YUMMM!

8/6/2011 10:38:46 AM

My basil is growing crazy too in this heat! I tend to use pecans in place of the pine nuts and I freeze pesto each year so we have it through the winter. Another yummy thing to do with pesto is to make a pocket in chicken breast (or between two thin hamburger patties) and stuff with pesto and fresh mozzarella then grill them. We love these! Or you can use leftover chicken (from baking it or something), saute with onions and peppers and put on hoagie bun with pesto--mmmm, mmmm good!! Think I know what WE are having for lunch! :) PS The bad breath story made me laugh--just because I can commiserate! :)

7/28/2011 12:37:18 AM

In addition to kale and spinach (good idea, CanAm Steve), chard is also tasty. I like to make pesto with some greens and basil. 1:1 is a good place to start then adjust the proportions to your tastes.

7/28/2011 12:32:09 AM

Walnuts are a great substitute for expensive pine nuts. And a pecorino like Romano can replace the Parm.

7/27/2011 6:08:26 PM

A friend and I have experimented making pesto with almost any leafy green - kale works well with just a little basil added, as does spinach (both easier to find and afford off-season). I also find that if I freeze the leafy stuff first, it blends a lot easier (after thawing, of course) in the food processor. A tiny bit of butter seems to add some smoothness. And you can part-substitute walnuts for pine nuts (some Chinese pine nuts have an awful metallic taste).