When Life Gives You Basil, Make Pesto…Even If You Can’t Afford Pine Nuts

I was outside assessing a new bee’s nest under the railing of the deck (I’m allergic), when out of the corner of my eye, I saw my tomato plants in the garden and a huge bush growing under three of them…BASIL!  The king of all garden herbs!  A TON of beautiful, glossy, fragrant basil.  The thing about basil is if you let it go to flowers, you are basically out of luck the rest of the summer and the bees just get to make nummy honey out of your labor.  So I stop planning my attack on the bee kingdom for a few hours anyway, and set out to harvest most of the basil.

Mr. Wonderful’s mom, is, well, also Wonderful-sick isn’t it!  😉 We were talking about gardening before we put in our square box garden and she mentioned that to protect tomatoes from worms and mold, you should plant basil plants near or in the same plot as your tomato plants.  Well, I still don’t exactly know what it is that I am doing in the garden, so any advice is welcome from a seasoned professional.  Turns out this is called “companion gardening“!  Who knew!!  Gosh I love the Internet.  The only drawback to this marvelous plan, is that sometimes you forget you have basil even growing in your garden area, because it blends in so well, and fills out the tomato plants beautifully, so your garden just looks incredibly lush it is for just this reason that I forgot about my basil and consequently had a jackpot on my hands today.

So, pesto is this super delicious sauce that originated in Northern Italy, like a zillion years ago.  Pesto means “to crush or pound” from the root word pesta.  There is your Latin lesson for the day.  Although, this is a little misleading these days, as it should really have its roots in the Adrienne for “to food process” as I would never in a million years make this delicious stuff if I didn’t have a food processor.  No way.  Most recipes for pesto are pretty adaptable, you are looking mostly for 1) your tolerance of extra-virgin olive oil (don’t skimp here, it will taste cheap if you put in cheap oil), 2) your fave nut or nut combo and 3) your fave herb(s) for which to create your base and 4) consistency of a loose paste.   In my freezer I happened to have walnuts on hand (pine nuts cost a small fortune, so I typically don’t have those on hand), and for herbs, a mountain of basil.  Traditionally, pesto is made with pine nuts, but I’ve successfully made it with almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and walnuts.  Use what you like.  So, today’s recipe consequently is Walnut-Basil Pesto.  Later this afternoon, I’m going to try to get to my oregano and thyme to whip up another batch, that is…if I can get past that bee’s nest to the railing box where it is planted.

Walnut-Basil Pesto

Makes one ice cube tray full of deliciousness

2 c fresh basil, de-stemmed, washed and dried (be careful not to bruise it)

1/2 c walnuts (you can toast these if you like, just let cool before you use ’em)

4 cloves garlic

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

3-4 T EVOO, depending on consistency desired

1 tsp lemon zest

Here is the hard part, dump all of the ingredients into food processor except EVOO and mulch up, slowly add the EVOO until you achieve a paste-like mush, you can live with, should be sticking together like a slushy, yet still fluid.  Transfer into a Pam coated ice cube tray (yes, really) and you have the makings of a pasta sauce for 12 2-person meals for sometime when you have opted to look fancy but cook minimally.  I added the lemon zest because I had it already grated in the freezer.  That’s optional, it brightens up the pesto a little.  If you would like to use less oil, feel free to add 1/2 oil and 1/2 water, veg broth, or lemon juice in order to bring it to the correct consistency.  If you screw up, and it turns out runny, hey, it happens, dump in a few more walnuts or add grated parm/regg cheese to the mixture to soak up some of the liquid.  You really can’t mess this up.  Add what you like.  This is just a base for what you love and/or what you have in your kitchen ready to go.  When you have the right mix, your cube tray sprayed with Pam, go ahead and drop until each cube area is 3/4 full, top with a drop or two of EVOO and then cover with plastic wrap to freeze.  When they are frozen, transfer into plastic snack or freezer bags in individual serving sizes of one cube each.  You will reconstitute this nugget for sauce later.

So what now?  You have made pesto and you have no idea what to do with it, right?  Wrong.  Boil up about 8oz of your fave pasta, and toss with this little pesto nugget from the freezer, using a little of the pasta boiling water to thin out the pesto to a nice sauce, add some parm cheese and maybe some diced tomatoes, toss a slice of bread on your plate and you have a dinner that tastes like summer, even in the winter from your freezer.  How cool is THAT?!  Genius.

Stop contemplating the effort factor, there really isn’t any effort at all, and go make some from your basil that is about to go to ruin.

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