Against all odds, we had a fairly good crop of basil this year. The wet spring set it back but the prolonged drought and intense heat in August made for bushy plants with bright green glossy leaves. I grow Genovese and sacred basil. They are markedly different plants, but a few leaves of basil o. in the Genovese makes for a smart, almost lemon accent. I also make incense of from the sacred basil; dried, crumbled and mixed in a paste of white beeswax to make small, very potent cones.
So, the other night (just ahead of the freeze warning) I harvested all the plants at once and set out to make pesto for the winter.
I don’t use pesticides and I’m in a fairly rural area so I don’t wash the leaves. I shake off the dust from our gravel road and rub the branches gently with a dish towel and they’re ready to go. If you do have to wash the plants, let them hang dry before continuing.
I make a huge batch of very plain pesto at the end of the season – basil, olive oil and sea salt – and pack it in to freezer jars. Later, as I use a jar in a recipe, I may add garlic, pine nuts, white wine vinegar, walnut oil, etc.
Use scissors to cut off the tough ends and blossoms. Dump the good parts into your food processor, add about 1/4 C olive oil and process until blended – but not yet pureed. Then add another batch of leaves, another 1/4 C of oil and some sea salt. Process until smooth, adding more oil if necessary. The processing time will vary based on the water content in the leaves and the amount of stems. You can do this in a blender, but it takes much longer and requires more oil. Pesto is actually the reason I have a food processor – I get along fine without a clothes dryer or a dishwasher, but I can’t make pesto without a Cuisinart.
It should look like this, and smell divine. You can be very ’70’s about this and freeze it in ice cube trays (pop the cubes out as soon as they are frozen and seal them in a plastic bag to avoid drying). I like to use the freezer jars from Ball. They’re stackable in the freezer, the lids screw down tightly, they clean up well and I’ll like them even better when I find them made of recycled materials.
You’ll end up with an odd amount – too little to fill a jar. I suggest orrechiette (little ears) with chopped broccoli, Parmesan and tons of pesto, and a little bit of crusty bread. Just the thing after a long afternoon of putting food by.