Some of you have requested my pesto recipe, so I thought I would oblige during this season of abundant basil. This recipe originally came from my mother-in-law, Mary Ann, although I’ve changed it up enough to consider it mine. I will give you the main ingredients first and then tell you possible alternatives.
I have two pots of basil on my back deck. I buy starter plants around Memorial Day and by Labor Day or a little after, I typically have at least 15 batches of frozen pesto stored in my freezer to get us through the long winter months. (That’s in additional to the weekly pesto pasta we eat all through the summer.) There is nothing like the taste of homemade pesto in the middle of an upstate New York winter. Grow some basil. Buy some basil. Savor the taste of summer any time of year.
1 cup of basil leaves, tightly packed
1/4 cup of fresh Italian parsley, stems removed
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (split in two 1/4 cup batches)
1/3 cup pine nuts (pignolis)
1 tsp. salt
Reserved pasta water, if needed
Extra pine nuts for toasting/topping pasta (optional)
Put all of the “dry” ingredients — EXCEPT THE CHEESE — into a food processor. Turn the motor on and drizzle the olive oil in slowly until it’s well blended. This is going to be enough pesto sauce for two pounds of pasta, so, unless you’re having company (or have a really big appetite), you’re going to want to freeze at least half of this.
NOW, if you are going to eat one batch right away, mix 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese in with it and you’re good to go. Toss a pound of pasta into boiling salted water, take it off when it’s al dente, mix it with the pesto sauce, and top it with some toasted pine nuts, if you’re using them. (Be careful when toasting pine nuts, which you can do in a dry saute pan or in an oven on a cookie sheet. They can go from untoasted to blackened very quickly. I tend to burn at least one batch before I get it right. Every single time I do it. Drives Dennis crazy.) Also, save some pasta water in case the sauce is too thick. Just mix a bit of the pasta water into the sauce until you have the consistency you want.
IF you are going to freeze a batch, DO NOT mix the cheese into that batch. It doesn’t taste as good when it defrosts if the cheese was frozen first. Instead, freeze the cheeseless sauce (I use the smallest of the Glad reusable containers for one batch); some people use ice cube trays so they can defrost in even smaller increments. Add the 1/4 cup of cheese later when you defrost it.
Alternatives: OK, I am not one to stick to a recipe, any recipe. In fact, I’m not happy unless I’m changing a recipe. My problem is that I usually can’t remember what I did when I’ve done something especially good. But there are few options when making this pesto. Here they are…
Sometimes I add the fresh parsley, and sometimes, if I have lots of basil and zero parsley, I go with straight basil. I often use Romano instead of Parmesan cheese because that’s what I usually have in my fridge. And sometimes — and the purists out there might want to cover their ears for this — I use walnuts or even sunflower seeds instead of the incredibly expensive pignolis. Now, I don’t do that often and usually I label it so I know to serve it to my own clan and not company, but, really, you can’t tell the difference. At least I can’t.
Serve with additional grated cheese and a nice side salad (and a glass of wine, of course). Mangia!