Do you ever wonder what to do with an overload of well producing basil? Do you also crave fresh foods in the winter? With just a little bit of preparation, you can answer both questions!
When you keep basil blooms pinched back, the plants grow tall and bushy. At every juncture you pinch off a budding flower spike, the plant will shoot off more leaves. Continue to do this for several weeks and you end up with a robust harvest of basil.
I prefer the large leaves of sweet Genovese basil. Not only does it have that distinctive basil flavor, but the large leaves quickly fill a bowl. I use a considerable amount of basil fresh; in Caprese salads and fresh pesto. But, I also like having home-made pesto in the winter as a quick pasta sauce.
Basil does turn dark when exposed to cold so you might be surprised to find there is a way to keep it beautifully green in the freezer. The secret is to pack the freshly made pesto into jars and cover with a thin layer of olive oil, close with a tight fitting lid and freeze immediately. The olive oil seems to create a barrier that keeps the color a nice green.
My version of pesto uses pinenuts and I do like it fairly garlicky. You can adjust the amount of garlic to your own taste. I use 2 ounce canning jars with plastic lids. One jar this size holds the right amount of pesto to create a pasta sauce for two people. It keeps well for at least one year. Pictured is a jar I just pulled out of the freezer to use.
• 8 cups closely packed basil leaves
• 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
• 1/2 cup pinenuts
• 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
• 1 tsp salt or to taste
• 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
• 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, more or less as needed for desired consistency
1. Wash basil leaves, then spin dry in a salad spinner or blot on paper towels.
2. Add garlic, pine nuts, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese to bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is combined. Scrape down sides of the bowl.
3. Add basil leaves and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pulse until the mixture is a paste-like consistency. Scrape down sides of the bowl again.
4. With the processor running on low, add remaining olive oil in a thin stream until the desired consistency is reached. You may need more or less than the 3/4 cup of olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.
5. Fill jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace, then pour a thin layer of olive oil across the top of the pesto. Add lids and close tightly. Label and freeze immediately.
6. When ready to use, take the jar out of the freezer about 30 minutes before using. I uncap and thaw in the microwave on defrost for about 30-45 seconds; just enough to get it out of the jar. Toss with any shape hot pasta. Taste; adjust seasonings. I find I often need to add a little additional salt.
7. Serve with salad and crusty bread for a quick weeknight meal.
Photos by author.
Julia Miller is the co-owner of Five Feline Farm, where the cats sleep while the owners work. The Farm includes market gardens, honeybees and a quiet place to develop creative pursuits. If you enjoyed this post, you can find more of Julia's cooking in her book "Simply Delicious" and on the Farm's social media accounts.
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