Tuesday, September 16, 2008

4th Annual (we think) Fest o' Pesto

Pesto, originally uploaded by chrisfreeland2002.

Several years ago as summer wound down Tagert and I realized that we had each planted far too many basil plants - it was after Labor Day and we still had huge plants covered in leaves. So, we decided to try making several batches of pesto as a way of keeping & storing the excess.

It was a sloppy job & we were woefully short on key ingredients like pine nuts and oil (!!), but the pesto we were able to complete turned out great. We froze the pesto in ice cube trays, which made for easy storage and a convenient serving size to drop into sauces or pasta.

So, the year after that we planted even more sweet basil & got neighbors Rik & Dawn Nemanick into the festivities. Dawn planted & cared for their plants and her husband Rik helped Tagert and I make the pesto. We ended up with tons of pesto that year - so much that everything in my freezer tasted like basil while the pesto was freezing...including the ice cubes!

Then there was the year that I froze everyone's pesto and our refrigerator died before I passed it out. That was a sad, pesto-free year.

Last year we got more organized by, you know, making a list of ingredients and stuff, and buying in bulk. By the time we waded through the pine nuts and oil we still had about 2 plants' worth of basil left to process. We let that go to compost...

I think this year we topped our previous efforts in getting organized and having enough ingredients on hand. Everything went smoothly and we ended up producing more pesto than ever before. Maybe next year we'll get really organized and try to come up with a recipe based on weight of the leaves and process in big batches. But, because we use our own Cuisinart choppers, for now we're kind of limited to smallish batch sizes (5 cups of leaves or smaller).

The other fun thing we've tried the past couple of years is to mix in different ingredients or switch up existing ones. We start off with Ina's basic pesto recipe (as with most Barefoot Contessa recipes it's awesome) and jump off from there - this year Tagert made a sundried tomato pesto that promises to be really tasty, and I swapped out the traditional shredded Parmesan cheese for asiago, which I prefer. We also made small batches with Lemon Basil & Thai Basil, the latter including chopped lemongrass (which I also had in abundance this year).

Regardless of the recipes you try out I think we've found the right approach, which is to do it all in one big, messy day. It's quite an ordeal, what with picking and washing leaves, prepping ingredients, chopping it all up, and trying to neatly spoon the pesto into ice cube trays & plastic containers...but at the end of the day you'll have enough pesto to share with friends and plenty to keep for your use throughout the next year.

One last note - we've realized that making pesto is kinda expensive. The basil is incredibly cheap, but add in pine nuts & walnuts (Ina's recipe calls for both), good olive oil, and Parmesan cheese and you can easily hit $100+ in supplies. But, compared with the outrageously priced containers of herbs in the produce section, your homemade dollop of frozen pesto is a delicious steal.

Ingredients & Instructions
1. Prep basil
  • Cut the plants off at the ground.
  • Pick off the leaves and put them in a large tub or bin
  • Rinse & drain leaves at least twice
  • If you have the manpower & an extra container to spare, start one person on the job of drying the basil leaves using a salad spinner (or two). It helps to divide the labor when you're making big batches, as opposed to each person working his or her own batches through from start to finish.
2. Prep ingredients
  • Toast walnuts & pine nuts.
  • Shred parmesan wedges in food processor using the chopping blade. It's noisy, but an incredibly simple, quick way to complete what is normally a slow, painful job!
  • Chop garlic.
3. Make pesto
  • We recommend Ina's basic recipe for pesto that she uses in her Pasta, Pesto & Peas. Ina rocks!!
  • Substitutions we like:
    • Cut the 1 1/2 cup of oil back to 1 cup for a thicker pesto.
    • Asiago instead of Parmesan cheese.
    • Use lemon basil instead of sweet basil, or add lemon juice & zest to sweet basil.
    • Add chopped sundried tomatoes before pureeing leaves.
    • ***BUT DON'T DO THESE ALL AT ONCE! Try one, maybe two, substitutions per batch, as the original recipe is really such a classic and you can easily veer off into some odd pestos by mixing up too many flavors.
4. Freeze pesto
  • Using a spoon, drop pesto into clean, dry ice cube trays.
  • Air will turn your lovely green pesto black, so cover each cube with a drizzle of olive oil.
  • Wrap trays in plastic wrap.
  • Stack and freeze.
  • After set, you can either leave them in the trays or pop them out and throw them into a big freezer bag.
  • Spoon the pesto into small airtight containers.
  • Use these larger portions to make a big batch of pesto pasta.


Nemanick said...

I can't wait to try it. The basil plants were huge this year with all of the rain in August.

Anonymous said...

We have also been known to use walnuts instead of the pine nuts and miso in place of the parmesan, but you need to use a pretty robust miso - we're partial to South River Hearty Brown Rice ourselves. We just made this summer's batch, too.

Chris Freeland said...

Ooh, miso would be fun with the Thai basil & lemongrass. I wanted to put in fresh ginger, too, but didn't have any on hand. A good suggestion for next year!

lawgrrl07 said...

Ok, that's just insane! Sorry to have missed out on those festos!

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