It’s that time of year again when the seasons are in the midst of changing. Where the days are still warm but the evenings cool quickly letting you know summer is giving way to autumn. Folks are planning for a fall bounty and harvesting the last of their early summer gardens. Garden herbs like basil may be ready for that south-facing window or a complete harvest. If your basil plants grow like mine, then you’re left with a giant bush of a plant and more basil you know what to do with. The fastest, easiest use that comes to mind is pesto! I see pesto as a luxury item given the cost of the oils, nuts, and cheese. After doing some research and playing around with different ingredients, I found a pesto recipe that was reasonable for my family and allowed me to use my fresh basil harvest to its fullest.
For my family, pesto is the go-to-quick-fix meal. I’m able to freeze 1/2 pint jars. A 1/2 pint jar is the perfect amount to cover a pound of pasta and its acompanying ingredients such as vegetables and a meat, pork, or fowl. Know that pesto is not just good for pasta. We like to toast a baguette and top it with pesto, oven roasted tomatoes, and mozzarella cheese. Need a flavor boost on your grilled steak…smother it in pesto right before it comes off the grill. Since pesto is composed of a fresh herb, you’ll want to add pesto on as a finishing ingredient. Right before serving or just as you’ve turned off the heat… add your pesto. It keeps the flavors light and fresh… yes, even if it has been frozen. I found that the pesto freezes exceptionally well and defrosts without a loss of texture, taste, or quality. I’ve read from others that they’ve found challenges with the cheese loosing quality during freezing. If you’re worried about quality, keep the cheese out of your frozen mixture and add back in when you thaw.
A traditional pesto is made with fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and a hard cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano. Unless I know how to extract the pine nuts from my grandmother’s pine tree’s cones, there is no way I could afford to buy enough pine nuts to accommodate a recipe that includes the amount of basil I had. Instead, I chose a variety of raw local walnuts and almonds that I’ve roasted myself. I’ve found a couple California olive oils that are well priced and won’t break my budget if I use a couple of cups. Finding hormone free cheese that is reasonably priced has been a challenge but we’ve found some varieties. A typical Parmigiano is used for a traditional pesto, but any dry aged hard cheese will do… pecorino, Asiago, even dry aged jack… it is all in the flavors you’d like to create. An almond and Asiago combination will give a sharp bite to the pesto where as a walnut Parmigiano will have a lighter, smoother texture.
Have fun and play with the flavors while harnessing the freshness of summer with the last of your fresh basil harvest…enjoy!
Homemade Roasted Almond & Fresh Basil Pesto
yield: 4 – 1/2 pint freezer jars
* = organic, hormone free, gmo free
^ = local
- 3 cups, packed, fresh basil *^
- 3/4 cup cubed or shredded dry aged cheese of choice (i.e. Parmigiano Reggiano, romano, Asiago, dry Monterey jack) *
- 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil ^
- 1/3 – 1/2 cup nut of choice (i.e. pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews) ^
- 2 medium-sized garlic cloves *^
- juice of 1/2 a lemon *^
- kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
- Special Equipment: Food processor
Step 1: in a preheated 350 (f) degree oven, place raw nuts (in this case almonds) on a cookie sheet and roast for 10 minutes
Step 2: After the nuts have cooled, place in a food processor and pulse until you’ve achieved a corse chop. Then add in your garlic and cheese (shredded or cubed will work) and continue to pulse until you’ve achieved a fine chop.
Step 3: now add in the basil and pulse a few more times to combine the herbs with the cheese & nut mixture.
Step 4: While the food processor is running, slowly stream in the olive oil. Half way through stop the processor, scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and add in the juice of the lemon, kosher salt, and pepper…
Step 5: Finish processing the olive oil to your desired consistency and adding kosher salt and pepper to your desired taste…
Step 6: Once processing is complete, you can pack the pesto into 1/2 pint freezer jars. Leave a 1/4 inch head space and top with a drizzle of olive oil before placing on the lid. These jars will keep in the freezer up to 1 year and in the refrigerator for up to a month.
To Defrost: place frozen jar in refrigerator and defrost overnight or place in a bowl of luke warm water for a more immediate defrost (usually takes an hour or less).
Mmmm… Pesto… enjoy!