Nothing says summer to me like fresh basil.

Living in Florida, I have pots of it growing on my patio most of the year, but basil never really gets going for most of the country until summer. Then lookout! Basil galore.

Going through the farmer’s market, you can smell it before you approach a table full of greens and fresh herbs. Buy a plant and get a good, big basily wiff as you brush against the leaves on your way home.

A good BLT might be the BEST thing about summer, but basil runs a close second for me.

Of course, loads of fresh basil means Pesto!

Pesto, officially means a sauce of ingredients that were originally mashed together old school-style using an mortar and pestle. Although you see many varieties of pesto today…spinach, arugula, using walnuts, artichokes, sundried tomatoes, the list goes on and on…pesto in its most perfect form uses basil and lots of it.

Here’s what you need:

Fresh Basil, Pine Nuts, Garlic, Lemon, Olive Oil, Parmesan or Romano Cheese, Salt & Pepper (not pictured).

Click here for a Pesto Shopping List

Hey, wait a minute. That’s not my kitchen. There are no nosy cats on chairs begging for chicken.

As many of you know, I’m spending part of my summer in Minnesota playing for the spectacular Mill City Summer Opera. I’m here for almost a month and my dear, generous, and incredibly patient to put up with the likes of me, friend Karl is hosting me in his fabulous guest accommodations.

Karl is a clarinetist and all round Renaissance man. I like to think of him as the male Martha Stewart. Only hairier. And with a Harley.

Karl cooks (yes, that is the Viking stove I have been known to fondle when no one is looking), gardens, brews beer for which he grows his own hops, plays music…. His garden gives definition to the phrase a “riot of color.”

And this is just a small sampling of the many, many flowers. There is no lawn…just flowers and vegetables galore. It’s paradise to a garden lover like me.

But back to the pesto. I bought 2 big bunches of basil at the farmer’s market.

If you have fresh basil, PLEASE don’t put it in the refrigerator or it will turn black. You can store it for several days in a glass or vase of water just like flowers.

I like to toast my pine nuts. Put the nuts in a dry pan over low heat and let them turn very slightly golden brown. If you can’t find pine nuts, walnuts are a great substitution.

Keep and eye on these and give the pan a good shake or two. Unwatched, they will go from toasted to burned very quickly.

Pesto is most quickly and easily made these days in a food processor or sturdy blender. If you are using a blender, be sure to put some oil in the bottom of the blender FIRST so you don’t burn out the motor trying to grind up the basil.

If you have a salad spinner, now is the time to use it to spin those basil leaves dry. Any moisture on the leaves will make your pesto a bit watery. Not the worst problem in the world, but if you make extra pesto to freeze (and you should make extra pesto to freeze…it keeps for ages), the texture won’t be quite as nice. Remove the basil leaves from the stems and discard any brown or damaged leaves.

Put the basil leaves in the bowl of the food processor. Chances are you have more leaves (I had about 4 cups) than your processor can hold. Rather than make 2 batches, I just partially grind down the first batch of basil to make some room and then add the rest.

Add some garlic – 1 – 2 cloves minced, or more if you’re feeling the love, and squeeze in the juice of 1 lemon.

With the food processor running, slowly pour in 1/4 – 1/2 cup of olive oil.

Pesto is not an exact science. Feel free to alter the amounts to suit your tastes or to accommodate the amount of basil you have on hand.

I tend to like my pesto a little more chunky and less oily so I’m probably using closer to 1/4 cup of oil. If you want super smooth pesto, add the oil a little at a time until you get the consistency you desire.

When the pesto is almost all processed, add 1/2 cup (or more) of finely grated Romano or Paremsan cheese and 1/2 cup toasted and cooled pine nuts.

Season to taste with salt & pepper and give it a whirl until it is smooth.

Note: sometimes when I know that I am freezing the bulk of my pesto, I leave out the cheese. Then when I thaw it out, I add the cheese for a fresher flavor. Karl, who is a pesto making machine, freezes his pesto cheese and all. He also makes a combo basil and tomato pesto that is amazing.

4 cups of basil makes well more than 1 cup of pesto. I have more than enough for a big bowl of pasta and also this 8 ounce container for eating or freezing later.

Boil up some noodles and add the pesto to the cooked pasta. Don’t heat the pesto on the stove or it will turn dark and lose its vibrant color and flavor.

Toss it together and top with a little extra cheese. Sometimes I also add sliced cherry tomatoes and mushrooms on top for more veg and more flavor. A few grilled shrimp or slices of cooked chicken are also great additions.

And pesto isn’t just for pasta! Use it as a spread on a turkey sandwich instead of mayo. Add a spoonful to oil and vinegar for a zesty salad dressing. Add some pesto to bread crumbs and stuff a fresh, ripe tomato then bake until tender.

Take a big bowl outside and eat in the garden!

What’s your favorite way to use pesto?

Here’s the recipe:


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24 Responses

  1. I just made pesto tonight! Brilliant minds think alike! And I love the picture of Karl…..
    fabulous photos of the food, flowers and friends. Next time I will try the lemon – I’ve never tried to add lemon (except I’ve made pesto with lemon basil) – but that sounds wonderful and I will do that next time!

    1. Why am I not surprised that we would be cooking the same things? One of these days the idiot’s kitchen camera is coming to YOUR house for a post on monster cookies, or scones, or those amazing cookies you made yesterday. The list of “Things I Want Jen to Cook for Me” is long.

  2. Basil…wonderful basil! Lat time I made pesto the only nuts I had on hand we pecans. I chopped them a little and toasted them in a cast iron pan. They give the pesto a slightly darker but still nutty flavor.
    I leave out both garlic and cheese when I freeze pesto. I think the fresh ingredients make a fresher taste. Of course freezing does not really happen until my own basil matures and I am overloaded. We put it on everything…ham sandwich, baked potato.
    A few days ago I took a pork loin roast spiral cut it to a flat piece; spread it with a mixture of pesto and sauteed mushroom. ( I also mixed in a few panko crumbs. They seem to keep the filling from running.) I rolled the roast as tightly as I could and slow roasted it over charcoal. We served it with roasted sweet and white potatoes, and an avocado, tomato salad. Yum!

    1. One tip for freezing that I forgot to mention is that you can freeze pesto in ice cube trays and then just pop them out into a freezer baggie. Then they are all ready to go in smaller quantities. I’m a pesto hog so I usually have no trouble using a bigger container. Nothing better than whipping out the summer pesto in the middle of dark, cold February!

  3. I’ll take Karl, his state of the art kitchen – especially the stove, gas? – and his flower garden over the pesto any day!

  4. Karl seems like a great friend. Any room for one more?
    I DO love pesto….and I think basil makes the best natural perfume on the planet. *swoon*
    So, are your kitties surviving without you? Who are they supervising these days??? 🙂

    1. I think the kitties are surviving without me better than I am without them. I’m pretty sure they’ve been bossing Jim around the kitchen at dinner time too.

  5. Great meeting you on Wednesday–love your blog. Pesto making and arugula porkchops this weekend. Wish I could share an armload of basil and a grocery sack of arugula with you. Any ideas for an abundance of summer squash?

    1. Hi Nina! I loved meeting you as well. I wish I could take my entire car full of your arugula and basil (that would smell GREAT) home with me! Hmmmm…summer squash….I have a ratatouille recipe that I need to make soon. I have a few recipes on the site for zucchini (zucchini carbonara style pasta, zucchini lemon bread, and I love the veggie burritos) but not a ton with the yellow variety of squash. To be honest, I usually just do a quick saute or put them in the grill basket with some onions and cherry tomatoes. Let me get to work on that when I get home!

      1. Pesto turned out great. Served it on bow tie pasta. Grandchildren, Harrison 18 mos and Olivia 6 both loved it. Just made the dressing for the Columbia 1905 Salad. Also prepping a Salade Nicoise with new potatoes and green beans from the garden. Pork chops turned out great but my arugula was not the best–it was second growth and not very tender.

    2. Nina, besides a simple saute or a simple breading & frying with slices of eggplant and zucchini, my husband likes to slice yellow summer squash and add it to salads. He keeps the slices a little chunky and they do add a nice, subtle flavor and crunch.

      Lucky you to be at the Minneapolis meet-up!

  6. I’d never tried pesto until a couple of years ago. It was love at first taste! A few months later, a friend gifted me a huge bundle of basil from her garden so I could make my own. I was going to freeze the leftovers but the entire batch was gobbled up!
    Thanks for the tip about not putting the fresh greens into the fridge.

    Karl sounds like a wonderful friend.

  7. “Karl is a clarinetist and all round Renaissance man. I like to think of him as the male Martha Stewart. Only hairier. And with a Harley.” I love it.

  8. Claudia, we love pesto and gardening both! If you ever don’t have armloads of fresh basil available but still have a craving for pesto, you can make a pretty good one substituting frozen spinach, believe it or not. Thaw out a couple boxes of frozen spinach and squeeze the water out of them. Proceed as you would if using basil (I don’t use lemon, though). You can use only spinach, or throw in a few fresh basil leaves if you’ve got any.

    We spread pesto on fresh tomatoes (of course) stir it into couscous, and use it as a topping for sauteed salmon. It’s also excellent on or inside an omelet.

  9. Hi Claudia,
    I made pesto using your recipe today with my garden basil…yum! Thanks for the tip about keeping basil in a vase like cut flowers…it looks and smells nice, is very handy, and reminds me of you in the kitchen…
    I’m working on using up my abundant eggplants too…the roasted vegetable & orzo is great, and I made ratatouille too, but I would benefit from some instruction on that…

    1. Hi Larry! (waving) I just made ratatouille last week and am working on putting together a post. Should be coming up this week. If any of your eggplants are big enough to stuff, take a look at the Italian Sausage Stuffed Eggplant Recipe. SO good!

  10. So glad you will be back to posting new and exciting recipes soon. I have missed you but realize that you are crazy busy… even M-I-Ls need lots of encouragement in the recipe line up from your! Going to make roasted and sauted spaghetti squash as a base, topped with a nice piece of bronzed Cod (we can’t get grouper in the North) and covered with Pesto. It makes a great almost non-carb meal (3 grams) . We had it at a “newly discovered” restaurant (TRIO’S) in Cincy and I was able to almost duplicate it. Can’t wait to see you in April.
    Marsha ;~)

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