What: (not-quite-traditional) basil pesto
Main ingredients and where I got them: The basil and garlic came from my parents’ farm. I used the last of the almonds I bought last fall at the Chico farmers’ market, and the cheese and oil came from my local natural foods co-op.
How much: about 25 cups (but I’m going to split it with my parents)
I’m so annoyed by bloggers who give elaborate recipe instructions for basic pesto, so I won’t do that here. I mean, it’s pesto not rocket science. For this batch, I used the following:basil garlic (My mom, who is a saint, peeled all the garlic cloves for me.) almonds about half parmesan cheese and half asiago cheese olive oil
Because I was doing up a huge quantity, I whizzed small, not-necessarily-proportionate batches of ingredients in a food processor, dumped the puree in a giant bowl, and then stirred everything together at the end while adding a little more olive oil. I have no idea if I used the “right” ratios of basil to cheese to nuts, etc., but it tasted good, really good.
After the ingredients were processed, I scooped the pesto into various half-pint jars. I saved a couple out to eat fresh, but most of them went straight into the freezer for winter eating.
Even if you grow your own basil, even if you grow your own garlic, pesto is super expensive. I forget that sometimes. I guess I could buy a bunch of cheap nuts, cheese, and oil at some discount store, but the end product is only going to be a good as the quality of the ingredients. I figure I might as well get decently good nuts, cheese, and oil, and that sh!t’s not cheap. That said, there is no way you could ever talk me into buying pine nuts. At my co-op, which is generally pretty expensive, pine nuts were nearly three times the price of almonds (from California), hazelnuts (from right here in the Willamette Valley), walnuts (from somewhere on the west coast), and even cashews (from Brazil). I don’t even like pine nuts that much, so I would prefer any of the aforementioned substitutes. I also opted for part asiago cheese because it’s cheaper than parmesan, too. I should say here that I don’t have a particularly refined palette, so I’m not going to follow through with tradition if I can make something that I like for half the price.
The weather has turned cooler, wetter, and distinctly more fall-like around here. Basil plants don’t much like these conditions, and many of the leaves on my parent’s plants are tinged with an ugly black. It’s something that happens every year around this time, and my mom stopped selling bunches of basil at the market because of it. I figured it was kind of now or never for pesto making this year, so I went for it in a big way, blackened leaves and all.
In years past, I’ve always frozen pesto in reused, pint-sized food containers, mostly of the cottage cheese variety. That’s not a bad way to do things, but I’ve found that a full pint is often more pesto than we will consume before it goes bad. I think by switching to half-pint jars, we’ll waste less even if it means taking up more freezer space because of inefficient stacking.
I know I’ve probably mentioned them before (and I know a few of you have referred to them in comments), but I wanted to, once again, wholeheartedly endorse Ball plastic jar lids. Every time I open a jar of canned goods that’s going to live in my refrigerator for a while, I replace the actual canning lid and ring with a plastic cap for much easier access, and most of my dry goods are stored in half-gallon jars topped with plastic lids. I also noticed that the package specifically says that they’re BPA-free now, which I consider a big plus. These lids aren’t watertight (I’ve learned that lesson many times), but they’ll work well for freezing something not too runny like pesto.
If you want to see a really pretty pesto-making demo, check out Tiger in a Jar’s video. I’ve made small batches of pesto with that chopping technique, and it works but takes a fair bit of time and energy.
Fresh pesto is, without a doubt, better than frozen pesto, but frozen pesto is better than nothing in the middle of February.
This is part of a collection of posts documenting my food preservation activities this summer/fall (more info here). Please feel free to comment with a link to food preservation activities on your own blogs or links to recipes you’re following or you’d like to try from other blogs.