In my opinion, freshly made pesto is one of the big joys of summer! There is a magical feeling in tossing together a quick batch of pesto and slathering it over your dinner in massive quantities. Then again, I just might be obsessed with pesto in all forms! But I do promise you that a batch of homemade pesto always beats out the store-bought alternatives.
I've looked at many a pesto recipe for inspiration, but I've never actually followed one. So I wanted to pass along some of that homemade pesto without a recipe knowledge to you wonderful folks. With a little tasting along the way - you'll be just as happy with your recipe-free pesto as I am!
Of course late summer is pesto season, when your home basil plants are finally producing high yields, and farmers markets are piled high with the fragrant herb. This is the time of year when I always take an afternoon to make a mega-sized batch of pesto and freeze it away so I can get that fresh taste of summer all winter long!
I like to freeze my pesto in little 4oz glass jars. It's the perfect size for a few small meals or one meal for a group, and defrosts quickly. Plenty of folks also recommend freezing it in your ice cube trays, then tossing all the cubes into a sealed container for single-serving pesto.
Everyone loves a simple meal of pasta with fresh pesto and some lovely veggies, but there is plenty more you can do with your creation once it's made! Mix it into a simple cream sauce for a creamy pesto sauce. Put it on your sandwiches. Mix it into some hummus for an awesome veggie dip. Slather it on toast. Use it as a pizza sauce. The options are endless!
So head down to that market of yours, buy up all the basil you can dream of, and get to it!
basil, and lots of it!
parmesan cheese, freshly grated
garlic, roughly chopped
walnuts (or pine nuts, if you're feeling rich and want to be traditional)
The basis of pesto is just creating a puree of your ingredients, but you don't want to totally demolish the basil leaves as a perfect pesto still has little bits of the leaves intact. So to start, pick the leaves from your basil and give them a rough chop (so you're starting with smaller pieces). If you're making a big batch this is absolutely the most time consuming part, so pour yourself a glass of wine and crank up some tunes, or find a friend to keep you company and lend a hand!
Once your basil is prepped, the rest is just a matter of tossing your ingredients into a food processor or blender in the right proportions. A food processor really works best for this, but I use my vitamix with great results! If you're using a blender, just be extra careful to get the mixture to cycle through the container to create an even texture and prevent you from finding giant chunks of leaf in your pesto!
I like to start with about half of my basil, and add more as the mixture purees. So add half your basil to your machine's container, along with the rest of the ingredients. Here are some notes on how much to add:
- I start with a heavy pour of olive oil (you'll be using quite a bit, so you're not likely to add too much at the start).
- Just a splash of lemon juice, you can always add more to taste!
- A small handful of parmesan cheese is a good place to start... but I don't really believe there can be too much cheese in my pesto. So if you're not a huge fan of cheese, start with less!
- Garlic is a personal thing, if you love it add a few cloves to start. If you don't, just add one!
- Pine nuts are classic for pesto, but I use walnuts because they're much cheaper. Start with an amount similar to the cheese you added.
- Sprinkle in some salt!
Now, start pureeing and let it go (with constant attention) until most of the leaves have been broken down to small specks. Add about half the basil you have remaining, and puree again. Then the rest, and puree!
You'll likely need to add some additional oil throughout the process. I don't like my pesto to be overly oily, so I just add what I need to keep the mixture from being too dry for the blender to work smoothly. Add more if you like a more oily pesto, or if you're worried about it oxidizing to a darker green. The added oil will prevent oxygen from reaching the basil.
Give it a taste each time you add more basil, and use your gut to tell if you need more lemon, garlic, cheese, nuts, or salt. Learning to cook by tasting and adding what the dish needs is the first step to getting creative in the kitchen!
When it's finished, use some as soon as you possibly can! If you've made a small batch the pesto will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. If you've made a lot - freeze it for a taste of summer in the middle of winter!
This recipe is for a classic basil pesto, as it's been made for ages. You can mix it up for a fresh pesto vibe if you like though! Try one of these ideas for something new:
- Mix up your basil a bit - cut it with some spinach or arugula
- Vegan? Use nutritional yeast in place of cheese
- You can use any variety of hard cheeses - grano, asiago, romano, piave
- Add in a spoonful of miso for a bit of umami flavor!
- Totally remove the basil, and make your pesto with another herb - my favorites are wild leek leaves in the early spring, arugula, or kale!