The Best Basil and Garden Pesto

June 10, 2018

A good, homemade pesto is the perfect
building block for all the best summer meals

 

There is nothing I like better than a perfect pesto.

I feel a little bit like I’m going back to square one by posting a pesto recipe, which you can literally find all over the internet, but I’m trying to keep it real around here and this time of year I’m making batches of the stuff like there’s no tomorrow!

I know that almost everybody is familiar with pesto, that green sauce from Italy made with basil and cheese and olive oil.

But something people might not know is that not all pestos are created equally.

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The most common pesto to find is basil, and the most common way to get it is from the store.  But it’s so expensive, and it honestly just really isn’t that good, either.  Definitely not something to rave about.

In fact, we ran out of my homemade kind in February of this year, and so I started buying it from Costco just to get us through until I could grow and make more (I’ve gots to have my pesto pizza on Friday night!).  The weird thing was, I really started to dislike it.  It didn’t taste summery and flavorful.  It tasted salty and uninspiring.  It tasted dull.  I wondered if I was over my pesto craze, and almost decided not to plant so many basil plants this year.

Then, I found some forgotten frozen cubes of the homemade kind in the back of the freezer.  And from the very first bite it was like eating mouthfuls of hot, sunny days and cold drinks and long, lazy evenings all over again!  Summer had found it’s way back to my palate!

It turns out that, like many things, pesto is better when it’s homegrown and homemade.

It’s also better when it’s not just a basil pesto, but a garden pesto.

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Garden pesto differs from regular pesto in that only about half of it is basil.  The rest of it is basically any other kind of leafy greens you want to pick from the garden.  I like to make mine primarily with leaves of Swiss chard and kale, because I think those plants pair well with basil.  You can also add kohlrabi, turnip, beet, or radish greens, but they have more of a bitter taste in my opinion.  I would experiment with these and then use them according to your own palate.

Then sparingly add garlic or onion chives, carrot tops, pea shoots, green onions, culinary herbs or garlic scapes if they’re in season – basically anything from the garden!  Play around and see what works best for you.

Garden pestos tend to gradually differ in taste and ingredients as the seasons change.  Mine start out usually with more chard and pea shoots and less basil in the early spring, and end up much more basil and garlic heavy as summer draws to a close.  I love the different layers and variations in the flavors though, and find them so much more interesting than just a plain pesto sauce (although when it’s homegrown, a basic basil sauce is pretty dang good too!)

Here’s how to make your own, although please remember that these are just guides.  Make sure to adjust measurements and ingredients to your tastes!


Basic Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 4 cups basil leaves (about 1 big handful), washed
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3/4 cup (or more) extra virgin olive oil

Make it a Garden Pesto!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups basil leaves (about 1 small handful), washed
  • 2 cups other leafy greens (like Swiss chard or kale)
  • A few sprigs of chives, garlic scapes, carrot tops, etc.
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp pepper (or to taste)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 3/4 cup (or more) extra virgin olive oil

Instructions

  1.  Add the basil, greens and lemon juice to a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped
  2.  Add the garlic, pine nuts, salt, pepper and cheese and pulse
  3.  With the food processor on, slowly pour in the olive oil until it reaches the consistency you want

 

Notes

  • Most recipes call for the stems of basil to be removed, but this is unnecessary as long as the stems are young, thin and tender.  Don’t use the bigger, woodier stems though, because they develop a harsh and bitter taste!
  • You can also use walnuts, almonds or cashews in place of pine nuts – they all add a slightly different flavor so experiment
  • Store your pesto in the refrigerator for up to a week
  • Freeze it for later!  I line muffin tins with silicone liners and freeze into individual cubes.  When they’re completely frozen, I pop them out and put them into freezer bags.  Then, I can grab one or two whenever I need them for dinner!

Wondering what to do with all that pesto?

Do you want to know the best thing about pesto?

It’s that it pairs amazingly well with pretty much everything, and adds a subtle summer oomph to lots of tired recipes.

My absolute favorite way to eat it is on pizza.  Spread the pesto evenly on your pizza dough, then add tomatoes, onions and grated Asiago and Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves.  It’s heavenly!

There’s also the traditional pasta, or you can spread it on crackers, add it to soup, sandwiches, scrambled eggs, spaghetti squash, fish or meat dishes, in hummus, on burgers, in tacos, poured on roasted vegetables – basically anything!  Let your imagination be your guide, and your taste buds will thank you!

So.  Make this sauce!  Enjoy the summertime in your mouth!  And don’t be weirded out by that sentence!

Thank you and god bless pesto.

 

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4 Comments

  • The EcoFeminist

    June 10, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    Yum! I always freeze 1/2 pint jars of pesto so I have it year-round. We also usually use slivered almonds from the bulk aisle as pine nuts are primarily coming from China these days (yet are still crazy expensive). Agree on using a variety of greens! Also for the vegans, nutritional yeast subs nicely when you can’t do parm (when I was dairy-free for a few years this saved me!). Lovely photos as always!!

    PS – we found out we can piggyback on the seller’s DSL account for internet – for some reason CenturyLink (not my fave but better than satellite…) won’t open any new accounts where we are but if the current owner who has it transfers her account over to us, we can have hers. Go figure. (big sigh of relief!)

  • ruthsoaper

    June 10, 2018 at 9:58 pm

    We like to make garlic scape pesto. It’s a great way to eat those scapes.

  • Jenny Baker

    June 19, 2018 at 1:32 am

    Yes! Pesto on pizza sounds amazing!

    1. lacey

      June 26, 2018 at 4:29 am

      Oh my gosh, it’s the best!

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