Fresh basil growing in the garden is one of our favorite sights of summer.  We intentionally try to over-plant basil each year as it’s so versatile in the kitchen, in soups, salads, sandwiches, or pizzas.

Basil 'Aroma 2' and 'Nufar'

This year we grew two varieties of basil, ‘Aroma 2’, and the large-leaf basil ‘Nufar Genovese’.  Of the two, my personal favorite is ‘Nufar Genovese’.  The plants are very productive, and their larger leaves go further when making pesto, and are easier to roll up and chiffonade.  Unlike some herbs that lend themselves well to drying, like thyme and rosemary, basil is always best when freshly picked from the garden.  If you have more basil than you can use fresh though, don’t let it go to seed, make pesto!

This basil 'Nufar' was threatening to bloom...rather than waste it, we turned it into pesto

3/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic cloves
2 Tbsp Pine nuts or Walnut pieces
1/4 Tsp salt
1/3 Cup coarsely grated Parmigiano Reggiano*
4 cups packed, fresh, Genovese basil leaves

*As cheese texture may be altered by freezing, we prefer to omit the cheese, and add it to the pesto after thawing.

Remove the leaves from the stems, discarding any flower buds, and rinse thoroughly in cold water.  If your home-grown basil has signs of aphids, small snails, or similar pests, fill the sink with cold water, add 1 Tbsp salt, and soak the leaves for 10 minutes.  The unwelcome guests will fall to the bottom of the sink.

Strip the leaves from the stems, and wash thoroughly

Drain, and rinse the basil leaves thoroughly in cold water.

Pine nuts are traditional in Pesto alla Genovese, albeit expensive

Walnuts are an excellent alternative for pesto

Place all of the ingredients, except the basil, into a blender or food processor.  Blend until smooth.  Add the basil one handful at a time, blending until all the basil is incorporated, and the pesto is of an even texture.

Fresh pesto...the possibilities are endless

Buying ready-made pesto can be expensive, and in my opinion, is rarely satisfying.  I often find commercially prepared pestos to be excessively oily, or salty, and lacking in any real freshness of flavor.  Homemade pesto though is simple, can be adjusted to taste, and freezes easily, helping to extend one of the freshest flavors of summer, deep into fall and winter.

This pesto is destined for the freezer

If storing pesto for later use, I recommend freezing it in various sized portions.  Freeze some individual servings in ice cube trays or small muffin tins, and once frozen, empty the trays and place the frozen pesto cubes in freezer bags.  These small quantities of pesto are perfect for swirling into winter soups, or using in sandwiches.  Larger portions may be frozen in small reusable 1/2-1 cup storage containers, handy for serving over pasta, or pizza.  Don’t forget to add the cheese to the thawed pesto if it was omitted at the time of freezing.

Grocery store basil is often exorbitantly priced.  If you’re not growing your own, or don’t have enough, local Farmer’s Markets here have recently been selling lush large bunches of basil for just $1 each during peak season. There’s no excuse, now is the perfect time to pesto!