Basil pesto stashed in the freezer is a cook’s best friend. Grow your own or buy it fresh, then follow this easy recipe to enjoy the taste of summer all year round.
For many years I’ve grown lots of basil for the sole purpose of making and freezing pesto. Opening up a bag full of frozen pesto cubes is like inhaling summer. Basil is easy to grow in pots or in the ground as long as it’s well-watered and lives in a sunny place.
If you keep picking the upper bracts off above new growth, it won’t flower and will keep on growing. Once it starts to flower, the leaves get bitter as the plant’s energy focuses on the flowers instead of the leaves, or at least that’s what I’ve read.
Recipes for pesto are easy to find online. Long ago I followed Marcella Hazan’s recipe in The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating. That book is out of print, however, it’s now part of her newer Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Once you make it, you won’t need a recipe for future batches, just eyeball it. Here’s Marcela’s recipe for Blender Pesto with my notes.
- 2 cups of fresh basil leaves — I usually fill up the processor with leaves.
- 1/2 cup (or thereabouts) olive oil
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted — I substitute toasted walnuts.
- 2 good-sized (but not huge) cloves garlic, cut in large pieces
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese – you won’t need cheese if you’re freezing the pesto.
- 3 tablespoons softened butter — I only add butter when I’m making pesto to serve immediately
Put basil, some of the olive oil, walnuts, garlic and salt in the food processor (that’s what I always use) and process, scraping down sides and checking consistency. Or, you could use a blender, or the old-fashioned method of mortar and pestle. Add olive oil until it looks right for your needs — just liquidy enough to freeze.
Scrape the pesto into a bowl and add cheese and butter — unless you’re freezing the pesto, in which case, omit these ingredients for now and add them later when you thaw the pesto.
I usually freeze all my pesto, except any I’m using immediately. Spoon the pesto into an ice cube tray. Cover the tray with wrap and put it in the freezer. Once it’s frozen, pop out the pesto cubes and store them in sandwich bags inside a freezer bag. Remember to add the parmesan cheese and butter, if desired, after thawing, if you omitted them earlier.
Here are some of the ways I use pesto — there are many more possibilities.
- Pasta — in all kinds of pasta sauces — plain pesto (with pasta water), pesto cream, white or red clam sauce, tomato or meat sauce, vegetable saute
- Sauteed or grilled vegetables, or ratatouille
- Tomato salad or stuffed tomatoes
- Pan-roasted or grilled chicken or fish
- Omelet or scrambled eggs
- White beans
- Pesto mayonnaise – great for tomato or eggplant sandwiches
- Pizza — white or tomato sauce
- Soups – add a bit to the top of minestrone or other soups
- Pasta or broccoli salad
- Chicken salad