Every year when it starts getting warm outside I make a batch of pesto, or pesto alla genovese, if you want to get fancy. It’s perfect to have in the house when you’re needing ideas to dress up a quick meal. It goes well with almost anything: pastas, pizza, fish, chicken, steak, drizzled over sliced mozzarella and tomatoes, used as a spread on crostini, or even added to a salad dressing to make a pesto vinaigrette. So many options! Here in Shanghai, my one saving grace to finding fresh western ingredients is the “Avocado Lady”, AND (now put on your commercial voice here) at a price you can afford! I mean she’s even on the list of 50 Reasons Why Shanghai is the Greatest City in the World according to CNN. I was able to grab a whole bunch of fresh basil and pine nuts all for under $10 which was pretty fantastic. Okay, now on to the good stuff. Here’s how to make a simple classic pesto sauce.
You’re going to need 3 cups packed basil, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 1/2 tablespoon of kosher salt, 3 to 4 garlic cloves, 1/3 cup good olive oil and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese. For the equipment you’ll need a food processor but you can also go with the more traditional route by using a mortar and pestle.
I like to process my basil in batches since I use a smaller processor. You just want to pulse a few times to be able to fit all the basil in.
Toast the pine nuts in a pan over low heat. You want the nuttiness to come out. Does that make sense? Make sure you shake them in the pan so they don’t burn. Take them off the burner and pour them into a separate container so they don’t continue to toast while you’re not looking. Allow them to cool completely.
While the pine nuts are cooling, pulse together the garlic cloves, salt and olive oil with the basil. For about 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides afterwards.
Now it looks pretty mushy, like creamed spinach, but don’t fret. Next, dump in the cooled pine nuts and pulse again for 10 seconds. The key here is to not over mix.
Now for the last step! Add the cheese and pulse again!
Viola! Presto! Pesto!
This makes about 1 cup of pesto which is probably good for a pound of pasta. If you’re not consuming right away you can add some olive oil on the top to create a thin layer and put it in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator for a few days. If you don’t think you will finish it in a few days then you’re in luck because pesto freezes wonderfully. At the end of the summer I’ll make one last batch and freeze it to last me into the colder months. Here’s how I like to freeze it. Ice cube trays!
Spoon the pesto into the tray and then add a thin layer of oil on top of each cube. Then place the plastic wrap over it while lightly pressing down so the plastic touches each scoop. This is so you ensure minimal air can get in keeping your pesto fresh and vibrant green.
You can either freeze it with just the plastic or I like using these trays that have a cover. Either way, when you want to use your pesto just pop out a cube or two and defrost it in the fridge the day you’re going to use it.
Pesto alla Genovese:
3 cups fresh basil leaves, (firmly packed)
3 large garlic cloves
½ tablespoons kosher salt
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
¼ cup grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
1. Toast the pine nuts in a small pan over low heat for 3 minutes. Shake frequently. Set aside and allow to cool completely.
2. Put the basil, garlic cloves, salt, and olive oil in the food-processor. Process 10 to 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Add the pine nuts and process for another 10 seconds. Scrape down the sides. Add the grated cheese and pulse a few times just to blend in.