The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

August 22, 2012

Amanda Stone: Fresh basil leads to pesto perfection

By Amanda Stone
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — One of my favorite tastes of summer is basil. It lends its sweet, pungent scent to a huge portion of the meals I cook in summer.

 I so look forward to the fresh taste of my favorite herb that I plant an entire packet of seeds in my garden every year.  This early enthusiasm yields about 30 plants.

That’s a lot of basil, even for a basil fanatic like me. Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for an efficient way to use my bountiful basil harvest.

The combination of fresh tomatoes and basil can’t be matched. Fortunately, that’s just about all that’s left standing in my garden.

I’m not ashamed to say I’ve had tomatoes and basil for every meal on numerous occasions: scrambled into eggs for breakfast, layered between mozzarella and bread for an amazing grilled cheese sandwich lunch, and quickly sauteed with garlic and olive oil to top off pasta for dinner.

Note that basil quickly loses its flavor when cooked, so throw it into your sauce when it’s done cooking.

My frugality compels me to use the basil. As I’ve said before, I hate wasting food, especially when I grew it myself.  

The seeds become gelatinous when soaked in water, so I could always let my plants flower and use the seeds to coat my daughter’s chia pet. It’s nice to have options.

I’m usually cursing the seemingly endless supply of basil in my garden by now, but no more.

I have discovered the beauty of freezing pesto. I tried this last year and was so pleased with the results that I tweaked my method until it was worthy of sharing. Before the plants go to seed, I trim them and make pesto from the trimmings.

Then the plants grow for a few more weeks, and I’m able to do it again.  I will get four big batches of pesto in my freezer this year.  I freeze it in ice cube trays for easy portion control.  

Because pesto is strong stuff, I only need 4 or 5 cubes for a pasta main dish.

Traditional pesto is made using a mortar and pestle, basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and Parmesan.  

I’m neither Italian nor a purist, so I feel like its OK to change this a bit. Break out the food processor.

 

Pesto

8 cups packed basil leaves

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (I use walnuts)

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Mix the garlic and nuts in a food processor until nearly smooth.  Add the basil, olive oil and Parmesan and process until smooth. Heat in a pan until warm. Serve as a sauce over pasta, as a spread on crusty bread or added to just about anything for a fresh Italian kick. Omit the cheese if freezing. Add it into the pesto when warming.



Pesto butter

Mash four tablespoons softened butter with 3/4 cup pesto. Spread on roasted potatoes, grilled corn, or a sliced baguette for bruschetta. Try it in place of regular butter on anything.



Steamed vegetables with pesto

Add three tablespoons to one pound of steamed green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, or any other veggie you like. Stir in the juice from a half lemon. It will give your normal steamed veggies an exciting flavor boost.



Pesto salad

Add pesto to oil and vinegar for salad dressing on a green salad.  Give them something to rave over at your next picnic by adding pesto to your egg, chicken or potato salad. Or skip the salad and add a dollop of pesto to your burger.  



Have questions? Email them to amandastone31@hotmail.com or mail her c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802.