Pesto 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.
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)