Cultivating basil is one of the most common and beloved practices among home gardeners, whether in open fields, vegetable gardens, or even in pots on balconies. Basil is a plant that brings immense satisfaction in terms of yield, even in small spaces. Sometimes, in addition to using it as a flavor enhancer (such as in a delightful salad with tomatoes and organic onions), there’s a need to use large quantities of basil. This is where the basil pesto recipe comes to the rescue.
In this article, we guide you on making basil pesto the right way, ensuring it retains its vibrant green color. Additionally, we provide tips for preserving it, so you can enjoy it whenever you crave.
The difference between homemade basil pesto and store-bought varieties lies in the quality of ingredients and the control each person can exercise over them.
But when is the right time to harvest basil? We’re talking about a plant that, if harvested at the right times and in the right ways, has prolonged productivity. Avoid collecting leaves at the beginning of the growth cycle; instead, wait patiently until they are sufficiently mature.
As seen in the photo above, basil plants grow vigorously, with some even starting to bloom. This is the ideal time for harvesting. By trimming the top shoots at the intersections of branches, you achieve two positive outcomes: first, you gather the younger, tender leaves for pesto; second, you halt flowering, allowing the plant to generate new shoots and extend its productivity.
To make a generous batch of basil pesto, here are the ingredient measurements:
- 250 grams of basil leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 150 grams of large pieces of Parmesan cheese
- 100 grams of large pieces of Pecorino Sardo cheese
- 120 grams of pine nuts (or blanched almonds)
- 375 ml of extra virgin olive oil
- 3 teaspoons of coarse salt.
Of course, for those following a vegan diet, you can omit the cheese. We’re sticking to the classic recipe.
Choosing the Right Ingredients for Basil Pesto
As mentioned earlier, selecting the right ingredients is crucial for high-quality basil pesto. We’re all familiar with the famous pesto alla genovese or pesto ligure. The difference between regular pesto and the authentic Genovese version lies in the choice of ingredients. Authentic Genovese pesto requires the use of traditional Italian basil, including Genovese basil, cultivated according to specific DOP regulations.
However, not everyone has the opportunity to grow basil according to these guidelines. In our recipe, we’ll simply refer to basil pesto.
Another crucial choice is the garlic. Ideally, use garlic grown in your home garden. Alternatively, we recommend using DOP-certified varieties, such as red garlic from Sulmona.
The same principle applies to cheese. Our advice is to use high-quality Italian products, such as Parmigiano Reggiano DOP or Pecorino Sardo DOP.
For the classic basil pesto recipe, it’s crucial to use a marble mortar and pestle (like this one you can find here).
Alternatively, a less traditional but probably more practical option is to use a food processor (like this one).
The first step is, of course, to gently wash the basil leaves and immediately pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
If the leaves are not properly dried, meaning they have water on them, the basil, and consequently your pesto, will tend to turn brown. Hence, this step is quite delicate.
This issue has a scientific explanation. Basil contains an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase, which utilizes the oxygen in the air, as well as dissolved in water, to oxidize the polyphenols and transform them into dark substances.
This is why it’s essential to dry the basil leaves well and not expose them excessively to air.
Next, place the ingredients in the appropriate container of the food processor, following this order:
First, the garlic, then the pine nuts, chunks of cheese, basil leaves, and salt (the salt also helps prevent the leaves from browning, so it’s best to put it over the leaves).
Begin processing the basil, keeping the food processor at a lower speed to avoid making the texture too fine and liquid. In our opinion, basil pesto is more flavorful when the ingredients remain somewhat distinct.
Gradually add the oil to emulsify the pesto and make it creamy.
For the measurements provided, you might need to divide the ingredients into two or three portions. So, the process may need to be repeated several times. Of course, this will also depend on the capacity of your kitchen equipment.
The photo above depicts the texture that the basil pesto should have at the end.
Naturally, you can adjust the quantities of the ingredients based on your taste preferences. For instance, less oil for a thicker consistency, less garlic for a milder taste, less cheese to emphasize the basil…
Consumption and Preservation
Ideal for basil pesto is to consume it right after it’s prepared. You can use it to dress pasta or any other dish. However, if you can’t enjoy it immediately, you can proceed with preservation.
The best way to preserve it is to let it cool in a bowl and then transfer it to plastic containers (the classic 200 ml ones). Simply cover these with plastic wrap and place them in the freezer.
With the quantities provided in this recipe, you’ll obtain approximately 5 containers of basil pesto.
Naturally, when needed, you can thaw the container and use the pesto as you prefer.
A final tip in this regard is to avoid heating the pesto; simply let it thaw and mix it into your dishes (even if they’re hot). Reheating it separately can alter its taste and cause it to turn dark.