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Pesto

 *originally published 10/19/2015*

 

Football season, our Autumn soap flying off the shelves, and pumpkin-flavored everything always cue Fall, and for me, the making of pesto is the final tradition to mark the end of summer and usher in Fall. 

Each summer, at the very, very end, when the basil plant is lush and loaded, we pick it clean.  It’s always bittersweet to see the plant look so stark and stiff, naked of its green growth.  Its bare limbs are a foreshadowing of winter, and the fragrant, summer leaves go from the plant to the blender to the freezer in the circle of seasons.

As we picked our basil this year, I remembered that I posted a photo on Instagram when we did the same last year, so I looked back to see the date.  Pesto-making day is not a date on our calendar; it’s more like one of those things that’s usually on my mental “need to get to” list for a few weeks before it actually happens.  Funny enough, I found last year’s photo of basil picking day, and it said “51 weeks ago.”  So, here we are one year later, one week shy of being an exact repeat of last year’s date!  

Here was the post caption:

A sure sign that summer is ending:  we pick all the basil to make pesto for the freezer.  We talk about cold winter days – which are hard to imagine now – when we’ll add this basil-turned-pesto to our tomato soup.  And on those cold winter days, when we cozy up to our warm bowls of soup, we’ll talk about this summer day – the one where we picked basil barefoot and made pesto.

And so it was… Throughout last winter, we ate our homemade tomato soup from the freezer {always with grilled cheese sandwiches} and the frozen pesto cubes were stirred in just before the cream.  And as the rhythms of the seasons are on repeat, so it will be again this year!  

Our favorite pesto is a recipe from Alice Waters, from her Art of Simple Food cookbook.  (One of my favorites!)  She recommends a mortar and pestle to make the pesto, and while that does sound nice, I’m going for quality + speed + bulk at this point in life.  That means I quadruple the recipe’s fresh ingredients  (or sometimes even x 8!), and it all goes into the Vitamix.  If you don’t have a high-powered blender like a Vitamix, you can use a food processor… the end result just may not be as smooth. 

 

1 cup basil

1 clove of garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted

1/4 cup parmesan cheese

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (Sometimes I use less, more like 1/3 cup)

salt to taste

 

 

Pesto-making tips:

  • Be sure the pine nuts have had a chance to cool before you add them to the blender and blend them with the other ingredients.  If you don’t, the warm pine nuts will melt the parmesan, and while your pesto will still be tasty, the consistency may be a little strange.  {I learned this the hard way.}
  • I love to freeze pesto in ice cube trays, then bag the cubes and store them in the freezer.  It’s great to have small amounts in ice cube size, so you can grab several for a big pot of soup or just one to jazz up a single sandwich. 

What to do with pesto?  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Stir a few cubes into a pot of tomato soup.  Add cubes based on how much pesto-intensity you want!
  • Traditional marinara?  Kick it up a notch with pesto!  Great add-in for lasagna too!
  • Stir pesto into mayonnaise to make a pesto spread for sandwiches.  We love this with turkey and provolone!  It’s an easy way to dress up regular, everyday, sandwich-bread sandwiches …or take homemade hoagie sandwiches to an elegant, company-worth level.
  • Stir pesto into cooked, hot pasta.  Add grilled chicken or sausage for a quick and easy dinner.  Pesto is great in cold pasta salads too!
  • This Grilled Chicken & Veggie Tortellini from Southern Living is one of my favorite, go-to recipes for my pesto.  
  • And this one sounds weird, but stay with me… avocado pesto pasta.  This is usually a mama-lunch at our house, made with leftover pasta from the previous night’s dinner.  Thaw and heat a frozen pesto cube and stir 1/2 mashed avocado into the pesto.  Serve over warm pasta.  Super food goodness!

When plants are out for sale next Spring, you’ll notice that a starter plant of basil is usually cheaper than the plastic package of fresh basil sold in the produce department.  Basil is easy to grow and can grow well in a medium-sized pot.  Pinch the tops off regularly to keep it thriving, and before you know it, you’ll have so much basil that you’ll be needing to make pesto!


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