This year my basil has reached for the stars and covered itself with glory. I bought one of those dwindly plants in the supermarket and kept it indoors for a bit. It clearly wasn’t a happy bunny – the leaves began to yellow and a few dropped off despondently. Time to go out, I told it, sternly. I planted it in the bed beside the terrace and close to the kitchen so I’d be able to raid it all summer long. Discreet applications of slug pellets kept the beasts at bay while it was still an infant. After a while I could see it was relishing its new home. Now it’s about twice the size it was when bought, and flowers are beginning to appear. Time for pesto.
There are more pesto recipes in books and on the web than…well, you get my drift. Here comes (yet) another one – more than anything else it will serve as an aide-memoire for me, so I won’t need to look it up in case I ever get such a bumper basil harvest again. I make mine in the food processor and always toast both garlic and pine nuts first, which gives added depth of flavour. You could use almonds or even walnuts instead of pine nuts, but that might be a step too far – I sense that I’ve already caused deep offence to pesto purists for using a food processor rather than a pestle, mortar and elbow grease. Otherwise it’s all down to the basil itself (lots of it), the olive oil (the fruitiest you can muster) and the Parmesan (freshly grated – but you didn’t need me to tell you that). Great with all the usual suspects (pasta, risotto & Co.) but also with lamb, slathered over new potatoes or stirred into a béchamel sauce for a lasagne of roasted summer veg. planned for next week.
Makes 2 x 125ml jars
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
50g pine nuts
About 15 bushy stems of large-leaf basil to give 2-3 good handfuls of leaves (for the pedants in the kitchen, about 75g/3 ounces when stripped/snipped off the stems)
50g chunk of Parmesan, freshly grated
125ml (8 tablespoons) fruity olive oil (I used Oli de Pau from the ever-admirable Empordalia co-op in Catalunya, snagged on our annual wine- and olive oil-buying raid last month)
Optional but nice: a squirt of lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
- Put a teaspoon of olive oil in a small heavy frying pan and toast the unpeeled cloves of garlic until the skins are a little golden and the garlic smells deliciously vampirish.
- Add the pine nuts and let them take a little colour – this goes very fast, so don’t go off and check your phone/emails/FB page or they’ll burn on you and will be useless.
- Tip both pine nuts and garlic onto a plate to arrest the cooking. Slip the garlic out of its jackets and squash it with a knife.
- Put garlic, pine nuts, basil leaves, olive oil and lemon juice (if used) in the food processor and process in sustained bursts, scraping down the sides with a spatula from time to time, till the basil is very finely chopped and it starts to reach a paste-like consistency. If it’s having a hard time coming together, add a splash or two of water.
- Add the Parmesan and process again till the cheese is mixed in. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Scrape pesto into jars and drizzle over a thin layer of olive oil to exclude air – I like to use 125ml glass yogurt jars, of which I have an out-of-control collection. In such small containers, even if you only use a little, the remaining pesto keeps much fresher than if you’d potted it up in regular jam jars. Keep the jars in the fridge and always add a little more olive oil when you remove a bit, to keep it fresh and green.