Sweet, Sweet Basil: How to Pinch Back Basil and Make Pesto

Reader Contribution by Ilene White Freedman
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Sweet basil is a taste of summertime. Do you have some in your garden? Do you have a nice bushy

plant? For years, I had tall spindly plants until my brother Ron taught me how to pinch the basil leaves back to bush out the plant. Until then, I had top-heavy basil plants that bushed out at the top when I finally started picking it. When you pinch the basil tops early on, the plant bushes out with new stems for a plant full of basil tops.

Here’s how it works: Under each basil top is a set of two leaves and a mini basil top in the “armpit,” between the stem and the leaf, on either side of the stem. When you pinch off the basil top, that stem heals and the two armpit clusters on either side of it become new stems, broadening the plant.

So now what are you going to do with all that sweet basil? I make pesto and more pesto. We eat it fresh, which is delicious, and then I make more pesto to put in the freezer for a winter full of pesto pizza and pesto pasta. I freeze pesto in ice cube trays designated for pesto. Don’t go thinking you can use your ice cube trays designated for only ice to store pesto, unless you like garlicky ice. Pick up a couple extras for freezing food. Otherwise, try paper bathroom cups. I pop the pesto cubes out of the ice cube tray the following day and store the pesto cubes back in the freezer in a zip-close bag. Then I can defrost a few at a time, or slice frozen for quick use.


Here’s my recipe for pesto, with the use of a food processor (blender would work; purists and simplists use a mortar and pestle):

2 to 3 garlic cloves
3 tbsp (or way more) of walnuts (pine nuts are nice but expensive)

Chop these. Then add:

¼ pound basil tops (3 packed cups)
½ tsp salt or to taste

Chop this in. Slowly blend in

1/3 cup olive oil

Add more if you like thinner pesto.

Stir in:

1/3 cup shredded Pecorina Romano (parmesan cheese is nice but expensive)

I based my recipe off Mollie Katzen’s recipe in The Moosewood Cookbook.

My favorite taste of summertime is a pesto grilled cheese with a slice of heirloom tomato. It’s the goodness of summer.


Photos by Ilene White Freedman 

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Md. The Freedmans are one of six 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the YearIlene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life at the House in the Woods blogeasy to follow from the farm’s Facebook pageFor more about House in the Woods, check out its official website.

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