I have had varying levels of success when growing basil, but this year has been a good year for it. We have gotten bag after bag of basil in our CSA box and, for some reason, I felt it necessary to plant two basil plants in my backyard. With the help of our friends Mandy and David, we completed a huge landscaping project in the backyard earlier this year, so I finally had a sunny spot in which to plant some herbs and a blueberry bush. Basil seemed like a good filler while the other perennials got established. I now have two giant basil plants in the backyard. Between those plants and our CSA box, I am going to be making a LOT of pesto.
You can make a lot of different variations with pesto. The basic combination is basil, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. You can throw in other herbs, replace some (or all) of the cheese with another type of hard cheese or lemon juice, or experiment with other types of nuts. Pine nuts are so expensive, that's usually the ingredient I play around with the most. My friend Mandy says it's scary buying them in bulk and I agree - you don't have that much control over the lever, and you could easily end up with a two pound bag of pine nuts and a much higher grocery bill. Pecans, sliced almonds, and walnuts all work well. I like to toast them first for about 5 - 7 minutes in a 350 degree oven, or until fragrant. Watch sliced almonds closely, as they can burn easily. The key is to taste your pesto frequently until it reaches the right consistency and flavor for you.
I don't have a food processor, so I make my pesto using an immersion blender. I find this works better than a standard blender, and clean-up is easier. But, food processor devotees probably prefer to use them for making pesto. Pesto also freezes well, which is a real bonus this time of year. Spoon pesto into ice cube trays, wrap tightly in plastic, and freeze for 24 hours. Pop out of the ice cube trays and freeze in a glass jar or freezer bag. I use roughly one cube of pesto per serving of pasta. Pesto discolors quickly when exposed to air, so freeze or cover tightly immediately.
Here is a pesto starting point - you take it from here!
Basil Rosemary Pesto
2 cups fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 - 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/4 - 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted almond slices
freshly ground black pepper
Puree the basil leaves, rosemary leaves, and garlic in a food processor or using an immersion blender. Drizzle in 1/4 cup olive oil and puree again. Add Parmesan and almonds, puree, and add additional olive oil as needed to reach desired consistency and flavor. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Freeze, or serve over pasta, boiled potatoes, on warm crusty bread, on a fresh tomato and mozzarella sandwich, or any other way you think of to serve it!