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Pesto, which literally means, paste, was originally a classic sauce from Genoa, Italy. And despite the many variations using other herbs for this extremely tasty flavoring, basil is still the most popular, and in my opinion, the most delicious.
My garden has produced more basil than I could ever use in pasta sauces, with fish or in soups. So some of it is used to make pesto to cook with throughout the winter months until a crop of basil is ready during the next gardening season.
Along with an abundance of basil, my herb bed has also grown the largest crop of Italian flat-leafed and curly parsley I have ever seen. For those who grow parsley, remember to dig up a plant or two and pot it for use until at least Christmas. Parsley is very cold resistant. It will be good long after the first few snow storms have fallen.
Fresh parsley in soups, salads, sauces and on fish is far superior to dried parsley. Parsley, unlike other herbs, freezes very well so rather than dry it, which I do with basil, I always freeze a couple of baggies of it.
Because of the abundance of parsley this year, we decided to make a pesto of it just as we do with basil. While some cookbooks say not to add the nuts and cheese until ready to use, we make batches of both containing the nuts and cheese, then freeze. They come out just fine.
Recipes for basil and parsley pesto are similar, but here I have provided instructions for making both. Before the time of blenders and food processors, cooks used a huge mortar and pestal to grind the ingredients into a paste.
Classic Basil Pesto (about two cups)
4 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
two-thirds cup pine nuts or walnuts
1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano, or a combination of both
1 cup olive oil
4 medium to large garlic cloves, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
The most work for making pesto is picking off the leaves. From there, it’s a relatively simple process.
Place the basil leaves, nuts, chopped garlic and cheese in the bowl of a food processor. Process until a rough paste results.
Using the processor’s feed tube, slowly pour in the olive oil while the processor is running. Scrape sides and remove the pesto. Salt and pepper.
Use immediately, store in the refrigerator for up to a week, or place in two freezer baggies and freeze for up to nine months. If freezing, flatten the contents in the bags. This way, it is easy to break off just the right sized piece for adding to any dish.
We always use some of the freshly made pesto as the only sauce for cooked linguine or fettucine.
Parsley pesto has a distinctively different flavor, and when fresh lemon juice is added when using, it is particularly good on baked fish or seafood. It’s also wonderful on pasta and in soups.
Parsley Pesto (about 1 cup)
One-half cup vegetable oil
One-half cup olive oil
4 medium to large garlic cloves, not peeled
2 cups packed fresh parsley leaves (I use both curly and flat-leafed parsley, but either can be used alone)
one-half cup pine nuts or walnuts
4 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon salt
In a small saucepan, combine the vegetable and olive oil, and the unpeeled garlic cloves. Cook over low heat until the garlic is soft, but not browned. Pour saucepan contents into a measuring cup and refrigerate until cold. When ready, peel the garlic cloves and place in a blender. Add the parsley leaves, nuts, water and salt. Pulse until the parsley leaves are well-chopped. This takes a while as the blender must be stopped and the contents stirred many times.
With the blender running, slowly pour in the oils, and process until smooth. Use immediately, or refrigerate for only a day or two. To freeze, spoon into freezer baggies and flatten. Use within a year.
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