If you’ve ever made homemade basil pesto, the only thing you are likely to learn from this post is that the success or failure of backyard gardening is often based on dumb luck.
Last year, I planted basil in pots in an attempt to create a trendy container herb garden. I tucked some kale and Swiss chard into a traditional bed and hoped for the best. The kale and Swiss Chard thrived, while the basil struggled. In fact, the basil either fried in the sun (as I frequently forgot to water it) or sat in pools of water for days after a summer thunderstorm released a deluge from the sky.
This season, I decided to plant one of these basil beauties from Restoration Farm in the backyard patch I’ve reserved for herbs and greens, and this summer, the basil is thriving. The initial plants, plus two others I received as gifts, with no nurturing whatsoever are the size of small shrubs.
So with basil leaves the size of palm leaf fronds nodding at me from the garden, I must finally acquiesce and make a batch of backyard basil pesto.
It really is as easy as they all say – about 10 minutes or less from garden to kitchen. I’m a little amazed at all the “original recipes” for pesto I find proliferating online. Let’s face it – there’s not a lot you can do to mess with this one. It’s basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, salt, pepper, and grated cheese. This basic recipe from the Food Network Kitchens works just fine.
Harvesting the basil is kind of a soothing, visceral experience. A heavy perfume of liquorice hangs in the warm summer afternoon air.
My one stab at originality consists of using a lemon infused olive oil I purchased at the local farmers market the day before. It does add a certain brightness to the party.
There are people who will tell you a salad spinner is a useless item. But it’s quite handy for rinsing the basil leaves and spinning them dry. Even when I believe the leaves are free of water, I manage to spin away several tablespoons more.
From there, the food processor is the kitchen tool of choice. Part of the appeal of this recipe is the additional directions for freezing. Grated Pecorino or Parmesan can be added once the pesto has been thawed.
So, the pesto is pulsed smooth and poured into a freezer safe jar, the shimmering green puree ready when I need it to adorn grilled chicken or pasta at some later date.
And, I’m already expecting that whatever plant is bombing this year will likely be my top performer in next year’s kitchen garden.
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