There are a few farmers’ market items that simply scream ‘summer is around the corner!’ to me…. Big bunches of fresh, sweet basil; early season stone fruit and the sale of blueberries by the bucket load (no kidding!). Whilst I prefer to wait for true summer for my stone fruit fix, the basil at the markets in the last two weeks has been just perfect. Bright green blemish-free leaves, not a woody stem in sight and the most amazing aroma.
As it is… I love to tear a few leaves of basil and toss them through a salad of cherry tomatoes, fiery rocket, sweet cucumber, shaved parmesan, avocado with an aged balsamic and oil dressing as something a little bit different to liven up my breakfast toast. Or I make a simple pasta of tinned cherry tomatoes, smashed garlic, red chilli flakes, plenty of good olive oil with the last minute addition of a few torn basil leaves, topped with a scattering of finely grated Parmesan.
But even after having these meals, I have come nowhere near using up the huge bunch I bought for just $2. I hate wasting food, so when I have a fresh bunch of basil staring at me straight on that needs to be used pretty quickly, my mind immediately goes to pesto. That wonderful bright green Italian concoction of sweet basil, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic and high quality extra virgin olive oil. So much flavour packed into one condiment! Once you taste homemade pesto you will NEVER go back to the imposter lurking on the supermarket shelves – I promise you.
I have tried a few different basil pesto recipes over the years, but this one is my favourite so far. It is based on a Stephanie Alexander recipe from her tome The Cooks Companion. Pesto purists will argue that is must be made with a mortar and pestle, but this takes a bit longer and I find I have great results with my food processor.
My favourite ways to use pesto are tossed through al dente spaghettini or angel hair pasta, as an instant dressing for boiled dutch cream potatoes or blanched green or butter beans, or streaked through the top of a roast vegetable and cheese frittata. As luck would have it, the day after making this batch one of my best friends and her Italian husband came to visit for a couple of days as a last child-free hurrah before my baby arrives in December, so we all enjoyed devouring this every which way!
Once made, use immediately or store in a tall skinny jar and top with a lashing of extra virgin olive oil (to prevent discolouration). Before using bring to room temperature, especially if adding to a hot dish such as pasta. I think it is best used within a week or so of when it is made, but if stored in a sterilised bottle with adequate oil on top it can last much longer… so get creative with some pesto creations to welcome summer!
Recipe Source: Adapted from The Cook’s Companion by Stephanie Alexander
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: N/A
Serves: Makes about 1 to 1.5 cups
2 ½ cups tightly packed, washed and dried fresh sweet basil leaves
6 tbsp pine nuts
2 medium garlic cloves
½ cup + a little extra good quality extra virgin olive oil
2 decent pinches sea salt
120 g grated decent parmesan (ideally grater using a microplane)
1. Place garlic, basil, pine nuts, salt, and extra virgin olive oil in a food processor and blitz until a paste forms. You will need to scrape down the sides once of twice to ensure it is uniform in texture. You may need to add a dash or two of extra oil to get the consistency you prefer.
2. Transfer paste to a bowl. Add grated parmesan and stir through until evenly distributed. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
3. Spoon into a screw top jar (the taller and narrower the better, as less pesto will be exposed to oxygen). Cove the top with a good layer of extra virgin olive oil to minimize oxidation. Store in fridge until ready to use (keeps for approx. 1 week).
4. Before using, spoon out the required amount and bring to room temperature. Remember to cover the top of the remaining pesto with another layer of oil to minimize oxidization.