Monday, November 21, 2011

Pesto time... finally!

First I must apologize for the long delay in pesto instructions.  I finally made the pesto myself this afternoon.  It takes about an hour to make plus any freeze time you need.  I apologize in advance that I will sound a bit like your grandmother giving you recipe instructions - nothing is exact, its all about the look and taste and texture.  I know there are precise recipes elsewhere with specific instructions but this is not that recipe.  

My "Italian family"... 6 years later (this picture was taken while they vacationed in Norway)

I was blessed to have the amazing opportunity to spend the summer as an au pair in Italy in 2004.  While there I lived with a great family and I got this recipe from my Italian mom, Mara.  I fell in love with her pesto while I was there so about a week before I left them I finally got her to teach me how to make pesto for myself.  Ever since then, I have made pesto just about every summer - for the summers that I did not make it I ALSO regret it about mid January.

I used to make my pesto and keep in in 1 bowl in the freezer and I would chip away enough for my meal.  This was inefficient at best.  Since then, I bought a silicon ice cube tray with small holders (they are about 1/3 the size of regular ice cubes).  I then freeze my pesto in the ice cube tray and store them all together in one freezer safe tubberware container.  When I am ready for pesto, I pop out one pesto cube, pour some olive oil on it to help it defrost then add my pasta... wala, you are left with fresh tasting pasta outside of the growing season.  

Ingredients - 

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Fresh Basil Leaves - around 3 big handfuls
about 4 oz. Pine Nuts
a small handful of shelled pecans (or walnut)
Rock Salt (about 2 pinches... is pinches a word?)
about 3-4 cloves of garlic
Parmesan Cheese - the block kind, not the grated kind... enough to make the pesto have the right amount of whiteness.  (I know these ingredients are not precise but you are just going for the right color and texture)

First pick your basil leaves - take off the stems and any flowers that are on your plants
I take about 2-3 big handfuls.  When I put them loosely in a 12 cup bowl, the leaves filled about 3/4 the bowl

Rinse - sand loves to stick to basil leaves so give them a good rinse 

One the basil leaves are free of stems, sand and flowers put them aside.

Cut your garlic cloves and parmesan into a couple pieces to make them easier for your food processor to chop
Add them to your food processor
Add some olive oil - probably about 2 tsp, I just turn my jar over twice.  You just want to make the ingredients wet.

Start the food processor.  You want the ingredients to get to the consistency of... hmmm.... smaller than crushed ice from Sonic but bigger then boxed bread crumbs.  

Add the nuts, basil, and rock salt. You will probably have to use a spatula or knife to get the basil to mix in... if you see it not chopping, just stop it, use a spatula or dull knife and push the basil down.

Chop it until it's a consistent texture.  You do not want to puree it, but it should be like a paste.  If its too crumbly add a little olive oil until it is a thick paste.  

The color should be about 50/50 green and white. If its too green as some parmesan.  If its too white add some basil.

This is too crumbly and too green.  Add some oil and parm.

Just right!

Taste it and make sure you like what you mixed.  If you need to add anything do it now.

You could either eat this freshly made over pasta with a little olive oil but I prefer to freeze it and eat it over winter.  

I think the very best way to freeze it is to use a silicon ice cube tray (do not use hard plastic, you want to be able to pop these guys out easily).  I only have 1 tray so I freeze in at least 2 phases, sometimes three.  Place the tray in the freezer until its hard, add the cubes to a freezer safe tubberware container (it can be pretty small).  

Pesto Cubes!

Then its the yummy time!  When you are ready to eat some just pop one cube out, add a little olive oil and it should be soft by the time your pasta is done boiling.  

I personally love to eat my pesto with cheese ravioli (I buy the cheap frozen bags at WalMart) or plain pasta with tomatoes.  Sometimes I add that imitation crab or lobster meat but not usually.  The husband is not very into meatless Mondays (or anydays for that matter) so I through grilled chicken breast into his when I make a super easy dinner for us.  

Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!

PS - Thank you so much Mara for the DELICIOUS recipe! 

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