back to basics: pesto

pesto
Curious about how to grow and harvest your own basil?  Check out our previous post on that.

We will always hold a special place in my heart for Pesto.  Our parents have been making their own pesto for as long as I can remember.  Even when we moved to massachusetts and had our mini 3’x2′ patio, they still made room for a couple planters full of basil so that we could make pesto.  We always had stockpiles in the freezer, so we always had a pesto supply year round.  Other than this nostalgic love for pesto, we love its versatility.  Pesto pasta.  Pesto pizza.  Pesto garlic bread.  Pesto-stuffed chicken.  There are so many meals where pesto can shine.

The first time I had store-bought pesto was when I went off to college and had my own apartment.  No deck = no pesto = sad Sharon.  So, as soon as we both became grown up and had our own apartments, we were anxious for spring to come around and we could grow some basil.

Making pesto is unbelievably easy.  All you need are the ingredients below, and a food processor.  Plus, pesto holds great in the freezer.  And because basil grows like a weed (seriously, it’s nuts), you will easily have enough pesto to last you a whole year.

Pesto
(Makes 2-3 cups)

3 cups basil leaves, cleaned from flowers and branches
6 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely cut
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup water

To help maintain the deep green color, blanche the basil.  This is done by submerging the basil leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, then shocking right away in ice water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze out the liquid.

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients.  Process until smooth.

Store the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for as long as 2-3 weeks.  You can also store the pesto in the freezer for up to 6 months.  When you’re ready to use the frozen portions, simply let them thaw at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

– food on,
Sharon & Shirley

pesto

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growing and harvesting basil

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Whether you have a small 2′ by 2′ patio in your apartment, or a 1/2 acre area to garden in, you have to save room for some basil.  I will not accept no for an answer.  Basil is so easy to grow and harvest, and has so many uses, that it is really a no-brainer.  Of course, you’ll come to see that Shirley and I love basil pesto, and cook with it year-round.  But, it is great in a tomato sauce, fresh salad, on a margarita pizza, or as a garnish.

So in what regions can you grow basil successfully?  Here are some quick tips:

  • First of all, I highly recommend buying a plant rather than starting from scratch with seeds.  Up here in the northeast, the summers are short, and seeds require much more attention.  If you add a few 5-inch plants of basil into a planter, they’ll catch very quickly and with little work.  Well worth the few extra dollars.
  • Basil needs lots of sunlight, and it does not like the cold.  Make sure you wait until after the last frost to start growing it.
  • Make sure the basil plants are in moist soil that is well drained.  If you live where it is very warm, cover the soil with mulch.  This will keep the soil moist.  If there looks to be a cold spell, make sure you harvest the basil beforehand, or it will not survive.

As far as when and how to harvest the basil:

  • If you see a bud, or worse, a flower, start to bloom, make sure you cut it!  Basil is an annual herb, meaning that it completes a full life cycle every year.  As soon as a flower forms, its life cycle is over, and no new leaves will form.  Fool the plant by continuously removing any flowers.
  • As soon as each plant has about 3-5 sets/”levels” of leaves, it’s time to start harvesting.
  • The night before you plant to harvest, water the plants very well.  Cut the branches with scissors the following morning.  The leaves will be at their most flavorful at this time.  Cut the branches above the second set of leaves from the ground.
  • The branches will continue to grow, and you can repeat this process every two weeks or so!  Basil grows crazy fast.

Now you’re in the kitchen:

  • Remove the leaves from the branches.  Even slightly discolored leaves are fine.  Discard any completely dry leaves, as well as the branches.  Make sure you do not accidentally include any flower buds in your pile of leaves.  They are very bitter!
  • Wash the leaves and use them however you like!

Be on the lookout for upcoming recipes where we show you the many things you can do with basil!

– plant on,
Sharon

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