Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pesto and the Basil Monster

During the past two summers, I've tried to grow little pots of different herbs in my St. Paul apartment.  In order to keep an eye on them but keep them away from curious kittens, I put them on the window sill of my bathroom window, tending to the plants for a couple of weeks and then promptly forgetting about them.  

But this winter, as I bought those plastic packages filled with herbs for a tiny sprig of thyme or a couple of leaves of basil, I decided that this year I was not going to mess around.  No more sad window sill pots.  My mom gave me some big planters and I went out to the St. Paul Farmers' Market in early May, trying to decide what collection of herbs I would be growing this summer.  I ended up with basil, thyme, basil, rosemary, basil, lemon basil, basil, giant-leaf basil, basil, dill, basil, sage, and probably some more basil.

With the help of my mom's green thumb, I lovingly planted my collection of herbs into the planter and nestled it quietly in the back corner of my apartment property.  (Of course, I got permission from my landlord first!)  The little plants held so much promise and looked quite adorable in their fancy pot.  But I realize now that I've created a monster.

Every day I go out to water and check on my little herb garden, it's exploded just a little bit more.  The basil plants have tripled in height, fragrant leaves spilling out in every direction, dwarfing the other herbs.  The sage leaves are huge and fuzzy, just waiting to be picked.  The rosemary has tumbled down the side of the pot and I know my lemon basil is in there somewhere...I just have to find it!  They are all calling out to me and finally today I attacked.  

What's the best way to make excellent use of a lot of basil?  Pesto, of course.  And as with most other things in my life, the more garlic the better.  After work and before the rain hit, I went outside to harvest a big ol' bowl of my little basil leaves.  I whipped up a quick batch of pesto, using the pine nuts I had in my freezer, the Parmesan in my fridge, and the garlic on my counter.  Then I boiled up some noodles and tossed the pasta with ALL of the fresh pesto.  It was the simplest of meals but man on was delicious.  I ate more than my fair share, but luckily, the little apartment herb garden is already working on a comeback.  Weekly pesto?  Perhaps!  

If you have your own herb garden, this is the perfect pesto recipe for all of that delightful basil you have growing.  And if you are buying your basil in bulk at the store, here's a great way to make sure any extra doesn't go to waste!

Garlic Lovers Pesto
makes about 1 cup of pesto

2 cups of loosely packed basil leaves
3 cloves of garlic, skinned
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor (or even a blender), pulse the basil, garlic, pine nuts, salt, cheese, and about half of the oil.  Scrape down the sides and pulse again, slowing adding the rest of the oil until you achieve the consistency that you like.  

Some recipes advise that you keep the cheese out of the pesto until you are ready to serve.  I don't keep my pesto on hand for longer than a few days, and I've never had a problem with adding the cheese straight away.  

Serve your pesto with pasta, on sandwiches, on pizzas, or as a dip.  It's pretty versatile!  


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