March 22, 2009

Experimenting w/Pesto

In the past year or so, I've become a veritable pesto expert. Last summer, I took a class on reading, gardening, and meditating*. We planted a labyrinth garden, and one of the main crops was basil. We grew six or seven different varieties of basil, so I started making pesto with a hodgepodge of species. Soon after the first frost (you know, in August) killed all the basil, I received one of those fancy hydroponic gardens as a gift. One cannot overestimate the worth of plants in winter in Maine.

*Sounds Zen, right? It was. We totally did t'ai chi. And walked in circles in a labyrinth. And read children's books. And planted plants. And had "snack time" in the middle of class.

At first, I only made pesto every now and then, but I did make it enough to hone my recipe (see below). Then, I bought an entire garden's worth of basil, and now all I grow is basil. I dry some of the basil, but the rest becomes pesto. I give away some of my pesto, but it tends not to freeze well, so I'm getting kind of tired of it, which led me to experiment with my recipe.

I'm in the midst of baking a loaf of sundried tomato and asiago bread (today's my cooking day: pesto, bread, and pulled beef BBQ), so I decided to add some sundried tomatoes to my recipe. The results, if I do say so myself, were marvelous. It was difficult to get the tomatoes small enough to work in pesto, but lots of pulsing in the food processor did the trick. Without further ado:
4 parts fresh basil leaves (you can retain some of the stems but it's best to have only the leaves; one harvesting of my plants usually yields about 1.5 to 2 cups packed)
1 part olive oil (more or less, depending on how thick you want the pesto)
1 part pine nuts (walnuts will do in an emergency)
1 part parmesan cheese (asiago or other cheeses will do, but don't add quite the same flavor)
1.5 teaspoons minced garlic (or, if you have it on hand, 3 cloves fresh garlic)
A pinch of salt
A pinch of sugar
I'm sure there's a certain order you're supposed to add the ingredients, but I just toss them all in the food processor and turn it on for a while. If you want to freeze your pesto, do so before you add the cheese, since dairy doesn't do too well in the freezer.

This time around, I added 1 part (about 0.5 cup) chopped sundried tomatoes.

I like to think there are three layers of flavor in this pesto: first you encounter the traditional pesto taste (basil, garlic, parm), then there's a slightly sweet taste (sugar), and it finishes with a pleasant, salty aftertaste.

I'm going to go package this up and bring it to the office so I can make my Italian friend a very happy person.


  1. Can you make your slightly German friend a very happy person too?!

    That pesto sounds fantastic. I love the idea of adding sundried tomatoes.

  2. Such nice colorful pictures too. You'd think I would have mentioned that in the first comment, but it took the second read-through for me to be truly impressed.

  3. Awesome! I tried starting some basil plants from seed for the first time this year, but it's slow going so far. Herbs seem more difficult to cultivate than vegetables? Any tips? If I do end up successfully growing basil (or copping out and buying a plant someone else has started), I'd love to try your recipe!

  4. LP: I cultivate them by using scissors to snip off the highest leaves. I usually only cut the ones that are growing off the main stem, because as soon as you cut a stem, it won't grow back. Honestly, you have to have a lot of plants to harvest enough for pesto. I have seven slots in my garden, but each slot has several stems growing from it.