Since we are blessed with a long growing season in the Carolinas, I grow my own basil from mid-April through early October. I usually buy at least six to eight basil plants and grow them organically. We reap an incredible amount of basil and enjoy pesto often. In fact, it is our son’s most requested “comfort food.” I freeze pesto in four-ounce jars, which are the perfect size for one recipe. I love dipping into my freezer in January and pulling out a tiny green jar that reminds me of summer.
One note: I am a very flexible pesto maker, and don’t always use the same proportions. Pesto is a very forgiving sauce, and as long as all your ingredients are fresh and delicious, it really won’t matter if you use a little more or less of certain ingredients. Make sure you always use only the basil leaves—never the stems or the tops that have begun to flower. The flowering tops will make your pesto taste nasty!
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves
- 3–4 garlic cloves, pressed
- ½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
- Sea salt
- About ⅔ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 3–4 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (optional)
- Put the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, and a tiny bit of sea salt into the food processor. Turn it on and begin drizzling in the olive oil, blending well. Scrap the sides of the food processor.
- Taste and adjust the salt (but use a very light hand, because you’re still going to be adding cheese). If you are making this batch to freeze, never add cheese at this point. You’ll freeze it without cheese and add cheese when you thaw it out for your pasta.
- Assuming you’re eating it tonight, stir in the grated cheeses and use the pesto for the pesto chicken recipe. But if you’ve made the pesto for pasta, here’s what you should do: before you drain your pasta, reserve a cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta in a colander and put it back in the hot pot. Add the pesto, toss well with a couple tablespoons of unsalted butter. Then add the cheeses. Toss again and add a little of the pasta cooking water to thin the pesto slightly so that it will coat the pasta like silk. Serve with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.