Turning Basil into Lemonade… er, Pesto

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Uh-oh.  My basil has bolted.

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

‘Bolting’ is the {hilarious} term used when plants go from mostly leaves to mostly seeds and flowers.  When the temperatures reach a certain point, it sets off itty-bitty internal herbal alarms and the plant does what’s it’s programmed to do: stop growing leaves and start producing seeds in order to survive.  Which isn’t bad for the plant, but it does turn the basil’s leaves bitter so it’s better to use it before or just after it bolts.  Don’t wait too long, as I’ve learned the hard way bolting really does negatively impact the flavor.

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

Doesn’t the word ‘bolting’ makes it sound like the basil’s girlfriend just took him shopping for wedding rings and he’s not quite ready to commit?  Anyways…

The time has come.  While I’m sad to part with my beloved basil plant, capturing the best of summer’s bounty does make me feel at peace with summer’s dwindling days.  Plus I know I can just go buy another one and grow it inside once the temperatures drop.

When life hands you bolted basil, you make… Pesto!

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

It’s totally delicious, easy to make, and extremely versatile… kind of like a certain simple summer salsa I know.  😉

Last year I made the mistake of making a huge batch of pesto and froze it all in one dish.  It tasted fresh as a summer’s day, which was actually the problem– it tasted so good, I hated to throw away the leftovers knowing I couldn’t use it all in one week after thawing.  This year I got smarter and utilized my cheapest, favorite-ist cooking tool: the ice cube tray.

Here’s my go-to pesto recipe, adapted from the one over at The Food Network.  If you’ve never made pesto before, really, you must try it today.  Before, you know, your basil bolts.

The Perfect Pesto Recipe

Here’s what I love most about pesto: it can be made with almost anything.  Don’t have fresh basil? Try cilantro or parsley.  Pine nuts are traditionally used, but I’ve used walnuts here.  All out of Parm Cheese?  Pecorino is perfect, too.  Double everything or cut it in half.  Use what you’ve got!

2 c fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 c walnuts (or pine nuts) (you can also toast them first for richer flavor)
2/3 c extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper (to taste)
* 1/2 c Parmesan cheese

*(if freezing, you don’t need this until you thaw pesto)

Step 1:  Be ruthless.  Cut the basil down to the stalk.  Wash and remove the leaves, discarding any that are light in color or otherwise damaged.

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

Step 2:  Place basil, garlic and nuts in food processor.  Pulse until coarsely blended.  Drizzle in 1/3 c. of olive oil and salt and pepper, pulse again to combine until smooth.

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

Step 3a:  If you ARE freezing the pesto, empty the smooth pesto into an ice cube tray.  Drizzle the tops with the remaining oil, creating a top layer of oil in each cube.  After freezing, place cubes into a well-labeled bag.  When you want to use the pesto, simply thaw the amount desired and stir in the freshly grated Parm cheese.

that’s a sloppy tray right there, but it was either make it look pretty or pack for Disney; you know me enough to guess which one I chose 😉

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it

Step 3b:  If you are NOT freezing the pesto, add the rest of the oil into the food processor and continue blending.  Pour into a bowl, and stir in the freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
It will keep, frozen, for about 3 months.  But… I’ll admit I’ve used it a month or two later than that.  Let’s say by Christmas you should be enjoying the last of your fresh and delicious pesto, okay?

8 Ways to Use Your Delicious Homemade Pesto:
  • stir it into a pan with cooked pasta and 1/4 cup of starchy pasta water (that stuff is pure gold)
  • use it in grilled cheese sandwiches with a slice of tomato– YUM
  • use it to marinate chicken
  • it’s delicious with eggs, perhaps in an egg casserole
  • spread it on toasted baguette slices
  • spread it onto one side of a wrap, and roll up with some turkey and cheese
  • combine with mayo for a sandwich spread
  • pesto dip (here’s dozens of pesto dip recipes on Pinterest)
  • makes a delicious sauce on homemade pizza

Okay, y’all, I’m off!  Or should I say, I’ve bolted?

the perfect pesto recipe and 8 ways to use it
Happy pesto making!  What are your favorite uses for pesto?  Have your herbs cut and run, too?

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