We made our first basil pesto of the season a few days ago. Holy moley, this was good.
Here's the provenance and anatomy of dinner:
From the garden:
Basil (Genovese and Sweet)
Wilted mixed greens
From the farmer's market:
From far away, dairy:
Parmigiano Reggiano (for pesto and top shavings)
From far away, grain:
Organic spelt egg noodles
From far away, protein:
From far away, odds and ends:
Lebanese olive oil
Celtic sea salt
Basic basil pesto is really easy to make, and *vastly* superior to the store-bought stuff. Once you've tried your own, grocery store pesto will taste like soap. It just takes a lot of chopping- pine nuts, basil; and grating- cheese. Do use a knife for the basil, rather than a food processor- food processors tend to make a mushy green mess of delicate basil leaves.
One thing about pesto... it takes A LOT of basil. We have about 20 basil plants growing this year, and we'll probably make basil pesto about once every two weeks. On pesto night, I go out and give all the plants a trim. My big honking pile of basil (with stems still on) overflows a 6-quart bowl. Once it's cleaned and chopped (leaves only), it will make about 4 servings.
There are myriad recipes for basil pesto, but it's about 2 parts basil, 1/2 part grated cheese, 1/2 part oil, 1/4 part nuts, salt to taste, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Some folks use Romano cheese, or use walnuts instead of pine nuts, or use lemon juice instead of balsamic, or add garlic. Use what you have, or try something new.
Mix well. Pesto is finished when it looks and tastes right (helpful, no?). But there are three main keys to making good pesto.
1) Use really good, really fresh, really clean basil.
2) Use the best olive oil you can find.
2) Use real Parmigiano Reggiano.
Real Parmigiano Reggiano makes an enormous difference; if you've never tried the real thing from Parma, seek it out. It'll make you realize that American "Parmesan" cheese in that ubiquitous green can isn't cheese, but rather a salty, woodshop floor sweepings-like substance. The simpler the food, the better the ingredients need to be.