The basil patch in my garden has reached its’ full potential; tall, majestic plants with large, dark green, glossy leaves and deep, purple leaves with a copper tinge. When picked, the plant releases the most delightful aroma, both pungent and sweet. Known as the “royal herb” by ancient Greeks, basil is a key herb in Mediterranean cooking.
My favorite variety, Genovese basil, is the classic Italian type, and used to make the addictive culinary sauce known as pesto. In Genoa, where pesto is king, the preparation of this sauce is steeped in generations of tradition. Pesto is the Italian work for “pounded”, and the Italian custom is to crush the sauce ingredients with a marble mortar and pestle.
Pesto is a relative newcomer to kitchens here in the Northeast. Some of the early recipes were first published in the New York Times, Sunset magazine and Gourmet magazine. A shelf stable product appeared in gourmet stores in the 1980’s, and supermarkets started to carry the sauce in the 1990’s.
Summer Pesto was a staple at my Bangor, Maine sandwich shop and wine store, Gourmet to Go, from 1987 until closing in 1995. The recipe, adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook, is a true Americanized version; simple to prepare in a food processor or blender, adaptable to a wide variety of nuts and cheese, powerful with the flavors of garlic and basil, and best of all, an easy sauce to freeze to enjoy in the winter.
Classic, complex, heady and fresh tasting, a jar of pesto is invaluable in the kitchen. Whisk pesto into scrambled eggs, stir into hot rice, season mayonnaise with pesto for a savory dip, brush pesto on veggies, chicken or fish for the grill, use pesto as delicious base for a white pizza, or top a summer soup with a dollop of pesto. For the creative cook, Presto Pesto! …the culinary possibilities are endless.
- 2 cups packed basil leaves cleaned and dry
- 4 large garlic cloves peeled and chopped
- 1 cup toasted almonds walnuts, or nut of your choice
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 3 ounces
- ¼- cups freshly grated Romano cheese 1.5 ounces
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Maine sea salt to taste try ½ teaspoon
- ½ teaspoon fresh pepper
- Assemble ingredients and tools. For best results, use a food processor or blender.
- Peel the garlic cloves and roughly chop. Set aside.
- Rip the leaves off the basil and pack into a 2-cup measure. Set aside.
- If desired, toast the nuts in a 200-degree oven on a sheet pan until nicely golden and they smell toasty. Let cool.
- Grate the cheeses and set aside. Using the food processor is easy and quick.
- Add the chopped garlic, basil leaves, and nuts to the bowl of your food processor or blender. Pulse the mixture until well chopped
- . Leave the motor running, and add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream. Process until the mixture is smooth.
- Turn the motor off. Add the cheeses, salt and pepper and lemon juice to the bowl. Process briefly until the mixture is well combined. Taste the pesto and correct the seasonings if needed.
- Scrape the mixture into jars and cover. Refrigerate or freeze the pesto.