Unfortunately I don't have room for a vegetable garden. I do grow a few herbs in pots in the back yard so they're handy for cooking. Several years ago our neighbor Adamo told us we could use his small garden for our 'orto', as Italians call a vegetable garden. I tried growing the usual: peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and more, but unfortunately Adamo's garden sits on a rocky outcrop, and the water drains through the dirt as though it were sand. This, combined with the fact that I have to carry water to the garden made me rethink the garden when summer rolled around again.
I decided that with the farmer's market and roadside stands, not to mention gifts from our neighbors, fruit and vegetables would be plentiful and cheap, so it just wasn't worth the (disappointing) effort. The one thing I knew I would continue to grow was basil, and plenty of it. Art and I both love pesto - on pasta, on bruschetta, on salmon, and in a variety of dishes. Even in Italy I've never found a ready-made pesto that lives up to my expectations, so I make my own. I also make extra to freeze so that we'll have pesto all through the winter. It's like a bit of sunshine, so fresh!
The word pesto comes from the Italian word 'pestare', to pound, so to be authentic pesto should be make the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle, but I have to admit that I just not that old fashioned. I use a food processor, and some purists will argue that the food processor causes heat which damages the basil, but even if that's true, I still think it tastes pretty darn good.
I have about twelve basil plants so that I can make my pesto in large batches. This recipe started out as a single batch recipe but I've changed it. If you'd like to make a smaller batch just reduce the ingredients proportionately.
To ensure that your basil keeps producing all summer long, first you have to pinch the stem just above the spot where two new leaves will sprout. If you do this you basil will get bushier and bushier over time. The second thing you have to do is to keep the basil pinched back enough so that it doesn't flower. Having several plants will ensure that you'll have enough basil whenever you want to make a batch of pesto, or to use in caprese or whatever other recipe you might want.
At the end of the season I pull the plants out of the ground, roots and all. I take a large bucket to the garden with me and just put all the plants into the bucket to carry to the back yard. Once I'm in the back yard I sit down and strip off all the good leaves. Not all the leaves will be good at this point; some might have yellowed, but it's not hard to figure out. I then make my final batch of pesto, but I also reserve enought basil leaves to freeze to use as seasoning. To do this I place the whole leaves on an aluminum pan and stick it in the freezer for a quick freeze. Once the leaves are frozen I QUICKLY crumble them and toss into a ziplock bag to add to sauces and recipes over the winter - much better than using dried basil! I usually have to freeze the basil in several batches because my freezer is small, but just remember to keep the previously frozen batch in the freezer, and to work very, very quickly, otherwise the leaves will thaw and you won't be able to crumble them up.
4 cups basil leaves, well packed
4 cloves garlic
1 cup pine nuts
1½ cups grated parmesan (or 2/3 parmesan and 1/3 pecorino)
1½ cups extra virgin olive oil (approximately)
salt & pepper to taste
Place basil leaves and garlic in food processor and process until leaves are finely chopped.
Add nuts and process until nuts are finely chopped.
Add cheese and process until combined.
With the processor running slowly add the oil until it’s the consistency you want.
After the oil is incorporated add salt and pepper to taste.
Yields 3 ½ -4 cups pesto. Store in airtight containers. Keeps in refrigerator for a week or more if you cover the remainder with a thin layer of oil. Can also be frozen.
I usually add a little less oil when I freeze the pesto, making it thicker so that I can add more or less oil later, depending on the recipe.