Making perfect dips and sauces have been a pleasure. I always aim at getting the ‘right’ flavor and texture you get from gourmet store product. I think sauces and dips are highly influenced by the freshness of the ingredients and method of cooking. Basil pesto is one such sauce, spread or dip (depends on how you use it). It can come out well if prepared the right way or otherwise really strong and bitter. This is because the basil leaves are strong in flavor, so much that no matter what you add in your pesto, basil leaves will dominate the flavor. I have done my experiments with basil pesto, and finally came up with the best recipe anyone can prepare, that too with pantry ingredients. My way is the traditional way, more close to the way it was prepared. Like everyone, it is my take on the pesto, but I assure even an amateur will not go wrong with it.
I plant my basil. Having the right weather most of the time, planting my herbs has been beneficial. I can pluck them when they are ‘just right’ and control my stock. So, for basil pesto, the leaves come from my small garden. I don’t use them if they are yellow, brown, purple or light green. You would want dark green basil leaves. One thing I really like about basil pesto is that you can consume it in so many ways. I use it on my bread, wheat crackers, salads, pasta, noodles, egg, chicken, fish, prawns… you name it! I will share a quick basil pesto pasta recipe below after I finish explaining how I make my own delicious, creamy, buttery and flavorful basil pesto.
For Basil pesto you need the following ingredients:
- ½ clove garlic, chopped (I would recommend grated garlic)
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 good handfuls fresh basil (avoid frozen/readily available)
- 1 handful pine nuts, very lightly toasted
- 1 good handful Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- extra virgin olive oil
- Half lemon juice in the end
- A few walnuts (reduce your pine nut quantity accordingly)
Ideally, you will take all the ingredients, put them in a food processor and grind till the mixture is smooth or a little coarse – depends on how you like it.
Don’t do that. Using blades to chop the leaves, putting everything together and not bothering about a step-by-step process kills the freshness and earthy flavor of pesto. It is such a ‘factory way’ to do it. If you want to prepare pesto the way it should be done, get a pestle and mortar. This will result in all the ingredients to bring out the flavor and retain freshness.
- Take a pestle and mortar and pound your garlic and salt in it. This is the first step.
- The second step is to add the basil leaves and continue to pound the mix. The leaves will start to release a sweet aroma and spreads its juices.
- The third step is to add the pine nuts and pound again. Add walnuts now if you are adding them to the recipe.
- The fourth step is to add olive oil, parmesan cheese (leave some to add later) and stir plus press the mix gently. Add salt and pepper as you like it.
- Lastly, add the remaining cheese and keep stirring and pressing (gently) the mix to bind all the ingredients. Stop when you feel your pesto has reached the desired texture.
Some like it a little coarse; some prefer smooth and some like their pesto with nuts roughly grinded and visible. I stop stirring when the oil and cheese are nicely blended, and the mix looks almost smooth. I like my nuts roughly grinded. At this stage, you can add some lemon juice if consuming the entire pesto in one go, or add as and when you consume.
Transfer the pesto to a mason jar and store it in the fridge. I recommend that you prepare fresh pesto as and when you need it. If storing, finish it within 2-3 days.
The olive oil gives a rich flavor, and the parmesan cheese adds a buttery taste to the pesto.
You can do a little variation of the recipe.
What I have done in the past:
- Substituted pine nuts with walnuts
- Added less/more salt and pepper
- Prepared pesto with/without lemon juice
- Tried adding more garlic to get a garlic hit
- Add tomato and make tomato basil pesto
- Do not use a food processor
- Taste your pesto at every step and add salt, pepper, cheese and lemon juice gradually.
Quick Basil Pesto Pasta recipe:
Now it is time for my quick basil pesto pasta. You need three ingredients. Yes! Just three.
- Your pesto – half cup
- Boiled pasta (recommended spiral) – one cup
- Cherry tomatoes 5 sliced
Heat a pan, put your pesto and stir till it starts to leave its oil. Add boiled pesto and stir well. Now add your cherry tomatoes and take it off the stove. Add salt and pepper as you like. Serve with a toasted garlic bread sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil. Voila!
At times I add crushed walnuts to my pasta.
I hope you liked my recipe for basil pesto. It is an easy, simple and quick recipe with no pre-preparations. Basil pesto is healthy and nutritious with many benefits. It is better than many sauces and dips you buy from supermarkets (containing added flavor, color, and preservatives).
Give it a try and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.