from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

My Pesto Addiction

Basil seedling

A basil seedling

I had homemade pesto for dinner last night. And the night before, and last weekend, too.

Now that this year’s crop is up and growing strong, I don’t mind using up the rest of last year’s batch of pesto, which I froze in Pesto Cubes. care not to use up my stash. For me, having pesto in the freezer is like having money in a savings account. It makes me feel secure — even wealthy. I realize how ridiculous this sounds, but it’s the truth.

Some years I freeze homemade applesauce; other years I can tomatoes or make pickled beets. But every year I make one or more big batches of pesto and freeze it. Basil is so easy to grow, and making pesto couldn’t be simpler. A few common ingredients, a minute or two in a blender or food processor, and you’ve got your own aromatic ambrosia.

It’s not too late to plant basil. The seeds germinate and grow quickly in warm, moist soil. Buy a few plants and you’ll get your first harvest that much sooner. Basil is a very forgiving plant; harvest half or more of the leaves and the plants will regrow quickly and be ready for another harvest in a month or so.

Have you seen the price of pre-made pesto at the supermarket? Five dollars or more for a 4-ounce container. I easily freeze twenty or thirty of these during a summer, and probably give away almost as much. Maybe my “savings account” of frozen pesto cubes isn’t so ridiculous after all.

How to Grow Basil

If you’re growing basil from seed, it will take three to four months for the plants to get large enough for a substantial harvest. Basil is a heat-loving plant; frost kills it outright, but even temperatures in the 50s slow its growth. If your first fall frost arrives before the middle of October, you may want to hunt for basil seedlings to plant instead of starting from seed. Another option is to grow basil in containers that you can move to a warm spot during early cool stretches in fall.

The standard basil used for pesto is called Genovese. However, there are more than three dozen other types of basil, including specialty varieties with overtones of lemon, cinnamon and lime.

You can sow basil seeds directly in the garden, but I prefer to sow them in cell packs or small flats so I can coddle them for the first four weeks or so. In the garden, grow basil in full sun and moist but well-drained soil. The plants grow slowly at first but pick up steam once they get established.

Basil prefers growing in a lightly moist, slightly acidic, well-drained soil that contains lots of organic matter. Like most herbs, basil is not a heavy feeder, so there is no need to add any fertilizer to the soil around your plants.

Suzanne’s Pesto
Use the recipe as a guideline, adjusting the ingredients to suit your taste.

  • 3 cups packed fresh basil leaves (picked off the stems)
  • 1/2 cup almonds or walnuts
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • water (optional; amount varies)

Method: Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until finely chopped. (If you’re ambitious, you can use a mortar and pestle.) You can leave it a little chunky or process the mixture until it’s smooth. I often add a few drizzles of water so it forms a soft paste, especially if I’m going to freeze it.

Freezing is easy: Just spoon the pesto into Pesto Cubes or some other small containers, leaving a bit of space at the top, because the pesto will expand as it freezes.

More pesto recipes: Read Make Your Own Pesto.

Pesto stored in Pesto Cubes

By summer’s end, my freezer is well-stocked with Pesto Cubes.

Tips

  • Most pesto recipes call for fresh garlic but I’m not a fan so I leave it out.
  • Most recipes also call for pine nuts, but I usually substitute almonds or walnuts, which are less expensive.
  • Many recipes also call for some fresh parsley but I prefer straight basil.
  • Toasting the nuts in a heavy skillet or 300-degree oven brings out their flavor — but watch them carefully so they don’t burn.
  • For best flavor in frozen pesto, you can leave out the Parmesan cheese;  add it to the defrosted pesto just before serving.

14 Comments

  1. July 14, 2011    

    Really need to start doing more preserving. Love the idea of being able to enjoy the seasonal stuff year round like that.

  2. Anonymous
    July 14, 2011    

    Leaving out the Parmesan definitely helps with freezing. I’ve used frozen pesto that was more than a year old, and it was still bright and delicious.

  3. Anonymous
    July 15, 2011    

    I’m trying zucchini in my pesto this year. I found a recipe to just puree it with the pesto and you get a little more green vegetables in your diet.

  4. July 15, 2011    

    I just tried some pesto with Asiago cheese and sun dried tomato for a different taste. It was pretty good!

  5. July 18, 2011    

    I will have to try this. I’m only getting the hang of growing my own Basil or should that be watering it? I’m a window sill gardener. Got the tip on a recent trip home and to be honest I’m shocked by the amount of water a pot of basil takes in on a daily basis.

  6. July 22, 2011    

    Basil is one plant that is absolutely thriving in my hydroponics garden and I have been making pesto using it to make the most of the crop. If only I could grow pine nuts as well :-)

  7. July 25, 2011    

    It’s even better with pine nuts! And I would wait until you’re ready to use it to add the cheese. Freezing is not kind to cheese . . .

    Also, adding just a bit of fresh lemon juice helps keep the flavor and color ‘bright’…

  8. July 28, 2011    

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Anonymous
    July 28, 2011    

    We just made a lot of pesto using roasted sunflower nuts (much cheaper)instead of pine nuts, and it turned out quite good. Also, we have lemon basil this year. It is very lemon-y, so we didn’t need to add lemon juice. The pesto has a really nice hint of lemon to it – delicious!

  10. Anonymous
    August 10, 2011    

    I also use garlic in my pesto recipe and the pine nuts or walnuts.
    I have a seal-a-meal machine that sucks all the air out of the bags and I freeze the bags in dinner portions. Works great! I use the pesto on fettucine noodles, on chicken breasts, or whatever else I can concoct.

  11. Shannon
    July 13, 2013    

    I will sometimes use roasted garlic instead of fresh for extra nuttiness! Not as much bite and a little more sweet.

  12. Renee Faubert
    July 18, 2013    

    Last year, I purchased a vacuum sealer. When I froze last year’s pesto in ice cube trays, I then popped the cubes out and vacuum sealed them. The pesto STILL tastes as fresh as when it was made! (Like the author, I am currently burning through the last of last year’s stocks as I prepare to make a new batch….)

  13. Chriss
    July 18, 2013    

    Adding fresh lemon juice with brighten up the flavor AND keep it from turning brown.

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