We finally have grown enough basil in our garden to make a batch of pesto. Below you’ll find an easy recipe to make at home. We love basil pesto sauce, but don’t want to pay $5 or more for a teeny-tiny plastic container of it, especially when there are preservatives or other added ingredients that an Italian grandmother wouldn’t have in her recipe.
When the weather turns cold and we can’t grow basil outdoors in our garden, we grow a container of it indoors just so we have a batch when we need it.
And on the rare occasion that we’re completely out and have a craving for pesto, we still don’t buy any pre-made. Instead, we buy a package of fresh basil leaves – you know, the kind you see in the refrigerated section of your grocery store where other fresh herbs are kept – and make our own pesto since its simple enough and most of the time we already have all the other ingredients needed for the recipe.
I was all excited to pick basil and make pesto that I didn’t check to see if I had the rest of the ingredients to make a batch. I usually make it with pine nuts and parmesan cheese, but when I came back from plucking basil realized we didn’t have either.
But no worries. I love improvising and making substitutions, plus I was too lazy to go to the store. So instead I used walnuts and Gouda, definitely not traditional, but it came out quite splendid indeed!
Basic Basil Pesto Recipe with Alternative Ingredient Suggestions
- 4 cups lightly packed basil leaves– In place of basil, you can substitute sun-dried tomatoes, peas, arugula, spinach, roasted red peppers, etc.. I imagine any tasty greens could be substituted for the basil or anything that would blend well with nuts and olive oil for a sauce. We have even used dandelion greens from our backyard (never sprayed, of course).
- 1/2 cup nuts – toasted or not, your choice. You can use whatever nuts you like – pine nuts (aka pignolis, traditional), walnuts, pistachios, cashews, pecans, etc.. You could also substitute seeds for the nuts like sunflower or pumpkin.
- ~2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil – this is the time to use the good stuff! Use more or less depending how thick or thin you like your pesto consistency.
- 3/4 cup grated cheese – Parmigiano Reggiano (traditional), Pecorino Romano, asiago, any hard, aged cheese works. Although, as I mentioned, all I had in the house was Gouda and it turned out great, so experiment. I would stay away from using soft cheeses or cheddar – just doesn’t seem like it would be a good thing. No you didn’t say what about Velveeta?!
- Garlic to taste- I use 2-3 crushed garlic cloves for this recipe
- Salt and Pepper to taste – I use 1/4 tsp of pepper and 1/2 tsp salt
- You can use a mortar and pestle (traditional, “pesto” from pestare means to pound or crush!) to blend the ingredients, but I like to use a food processor when I’m lazy.
- Place the basil into the food processor.
Toast (or not) your choice of nuts and add to the basil. To toast nuts (especially in the summertime when you don’t want to turn on the oven) I just heat up a dry, small skillet and toast the nuts by turning them often until lightly browned. Cool.
- Add the nuts to the basil and pulse until blended.
- Turn on the food processor and slowly add the olive oil until you get the consistency you like.
- Now add the cheese and garlic and pulse again until incorporated. You want to add these later so they don’t get too processed. Garlic can become bitter if over-processed, so I add crushed garlic instead of whole cloves so it blends easier and faster.
Add more olive oil if needed as you did in step 5.
- Taste and add salt and pepper. I like to add salt last because the cheese is often salty enough to season the pesto.
Additions: I like to add fresh cherry tomatoes from the garden and/or or grilled chicken, shrimp, etc. to make it a more heartier meal. Sometimes I like to add a tinge of lemon zest for a nice, fresh contrast of flavor to the rich sauce.
For a Creamy Pesto Sauce: Purée with the other ingredients, 4 oz. of cream cheese and 1/2 cup of cream for a rich, cheesy-creamy sauce.
Serving suggestions: We like pesto over hot pasta, spread on bruschetta, over hot vegetables, in potato salad, spread on a turkey panini sandwich, as a topping over fish or chicken or as an alternative for tomato sauce on pizza. You can also use it as a salad dressing (add a little more olive oil to make it thinner).
The pesto can be kept up to 1 week in the fridge (a small batch never lasts that long :-)) or in the freezer for 6 months. My husbands mother liked to freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray. Each pesto cube was then used as a serving over pasta.
What About You? What kind of pesto do you like to make? What is your favorite way to use it? Please share below.