Pesto Tips & Tricks

Kate of Accidental Hedonist recently had a lovely post about Pesto, including history, methodologies, and a recipe. The quintessential summer dinner of my childhood was fresh pasta with pesto made from our garden and grilled salmon, plus black olives, tomatoes, and feta cheese on the side. It remains a staple in my kitchen, often spread on hunks of fresh bread with cheese and other accoutrement. With these warm memories, I found myself with too much to say on the subject of pesto for Kate's comments section, so will share my thoughts here instead.Although pesto is a generic term that can apply to all sorts of sauces, the most traditional and first association tends to be with the basil-based recipe that originated in Genova, Italy. With an overabundance of basil plants of man-eating dimension in my garden this year, I did quite a bit of experimenting with basil-based pesto methods and recipes and learned a few things: 1) Basil likes being planted in the ground a whole lot more than it likes pots. Once it's in the right place, it's a fairly forgiving, high-yield plant.2) Traditional Italian wisdom says that pesto must be made with a mortar and pestle. To use one to make pesto, you have to have more than a little energy and enthusiasm; you have to be down-right masochistic. I started a batch this way some weeks ago, but neither the color nor the flavor nor the texture were going in the right direction. I gave up after ten minutes with only tired arms, black scraps of flattened leaves, and dark juice to show for the effort. 3) Adding the oil to the food processor together with the pine nuts and garlic, before adding the basil, keeps the basil from oxidizing during chopping and yields a much more enduringly bright green pesto than does adding the oil at the end.4) As with any nuts, lightly toasting the pine nuts before blending helps them release their oil and make a smoother, more flavorful paste. 5) Freezing pesto in ice cube trays works really well. Once frozen, you can dump the cubes into a freezer bag and quickly thaw exactly as much pesto as you need at any given time.I don't follow precise measurements for pesto and no two batches are quite the same, but here's my basic recipe:Blend all of the following in a food processor until smooth:    1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan     1/4 cup lightly toasted pine nuts     2-5 cloves garlic, depending on your taste     2/3 cup high-quality olive oil Add and blend:    4 cups packed basil leaves, washed and dried, stems removed (small seed heads are OK)     Salt and pepper to tasteAdd more olive oil if the pesto is too thick and add more Parmesan, garlic, and salt and pepper if needed.Once packed, if storing, poor a little extra olive oil over the top of the pesto to prevent browning. This isn't usually necessary when freezing in ice cube trays, but is helpful for larger containers.~Alas, it's been awhile since I was home during daylight hours without lots of visiting family to attend to, so no photos to accompany this post. As soon as the chaos subsides, I'll post about last week's marathon dining-out-kickoff-dinner at La Folie.