Pesto—a paste of basil, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and few other key players—is widely available pre-made. But no processed container of green stuff can hold a candle to homemade pesto. When the basil starts coming on strong in your garden or at the market, start making pesto. Once you have fabulous homemade pesto in the house, serve it on the pasta of your choice, use it as a dip, try it over fresh boiled potatoes, or drizzle it on grilled vegetables. See Ways to Use Pesto for more ideas.
Note: Blanching the basil (step 1) is completely optional, but ensures the pesto stays a bright, vivid green rather than turning black when refrigerated or frozen. Yep, pesto freezes very nicely, and is a real treat in the dead of winter.
- Optional, but keeps the pesto green: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add enough salt so it tastes salty. Prepare a large bowl of ice water. Put the basil leaves in the boiling water. Cook 30 seconds, drain (or use a slotted spoon to scoop out if you're working in batches), and immediately put the basil in the ice water. Swish the basil leaves around until they're completely cooled off. Drain and, using your hands, squeeze as much water as you can from the basil leaves. Be aggressive here and squeeze hard.
- Peel and roughly chop the garlic. Put the basil, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt in a blender or food processor.* Whirl until completely pureed, scraping down the sides as necessary to keep the mixture uniform. Add up to 1/2 cup water to keep the mixture blending and smooth (adding more oil will just make the mixture oily and likely to separate when you serve it).
- Add the pine nuts and cheese and pulse until chopped and well incorporated. Serve with hot pasta or store, covered and chilled up to one week or frozen up to 6 months.
* You can get traditional, and use a mortar and pestle instead: use a large one, work the garlic and salt together before adding the basil, working that into somewhat of a paste, and then adding the lemon juice and olive oil; as with the blender method, pine nuts and Parmesan go last.