Although summer isn’t officially over until September 22nd, we’re nearing the end and that means, basil harvest!!
I’ve been using my basil all spring and summer for caprese salads, but this is the time of year I chop it way down, make pesto for freezing and wait for another flush of growth in late September or early October so I can do it all over again! Yay for Texas fall weather!
My recipe and technique are both simple and the result will give you some fresh spring goodness to get you thru many gloomy winter months. Now, I don’t make a traditional basil pesto with the addition of Parmesan and salt because I use mine for many things and I can always add those when needed. Also, the addition of Parmesan just adds extra bulk to the sauce that I don’t want when I’m freezing it in small portions. You’ll see what I mean later.
I use pesto to drizzle on a caprese salad when tomatoes are at their summer best, yes, but I also use it in my spaghetti sauce, Italian soups, as a topping for steaks, marinade for chicken, a “salsa” for grilled fish, bruschetta topping, and a mix in for compound butter. I also use it as a finishing sauce of sorts on pan seared shrimp, scallops or brush it on a grilled chicken breast. Any one of which can then be served on a bed of pasta that’s been tossed with additional pesto mixed with olive oil, Parmesan and salt to taste. Seriously, basil pesto is one of the most versatile staples you can have in your freezer!
Because I use my pesto for so many things and I freeze it in small portions, my recipe is very concentrated. To use it as a traditional basil pesto, just defrost it in the microwave or in a saucepan. Thin it down with some extra-virgin olive oil to the consistency of your liking, add Parmesan cheese and season to taste with salt and toss with your favorite pasta. If you want to use it as a topping or marinade, just defrost and use as is if you have already seasoned your protein. For spaghetti sauce and soups, feel free to toss it in straight from the freezer!
Now, some recipes call for blanching the basil, others don’t. If you grow your basil in a greenhouse, you probably don’t need to blanch. I grow mine outdoors where little buggers and birds can get to it, so I feel safer blanching mine. Also, blanching keeps the pesto a more vibrant green. Unblanched pesto is a darker moss color. Some people claim unblanched has a fresher herb flavor. I seriously can’t tell the difference. Just make sure you wash, wash, wash your basil leaves no matter where you source it from.
So here’s the recipe!
BASIL PESTO CONCENTRATE
Yield: 22 cubes
8 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
1 cup pine nuts (substitute walnuts, if necessary)
8 cups packed fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Get a large pot of water boiling to blanch the basil. In the meantime prepare an ice bath consisting of half ice and half cold water in a large bowl. Set aside. Blanch basil in boiling water for 15 seconds. Using a strainer, remove the basil and immediately plunge it into the ice bath to stop the cooking process. Work in batches if necessary until all the basil is blanched. Use a salad spinner to remove excess water from basil, or press between paper towels.
Using a food processor fitted with a blade, process the garlic, pine nuts and the basil leaves into a thick paste, scraping down the sides as necessary.
Replace the processor lid and remove the chute cover. With the processor running, drizzle the olive oil in a thin stream until all is incorporated.
Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays. Freeze over night. Pop out of trays and place in a freezer zip-top bag for storage.
Yay! Frozen basil pesto concentrate cubes to use as you please! Happy Cooking!