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  • 11th Oct, 2005 at 10:03 PM

Simon with basil
Originally uploaded by sfllaw.

Pesto is just divine. Correspondingly, it is very expensive at the grocery store. But this is silly, because pesto is very cheap to make at the height of summer. This is because basil is a hearty plant and grows like a weed. I have a basil plant in my windowsill that has survived two owners, for three years, across four droughts, and through five moves.

You should go to your local farmer's market, and find a stall that sells fresh herbs. Haggle with the vendor until he sells you a grocery bag full of basil at a discount. Then, take this home greedily, all while smiling to the people who stare at your forest of basil. Let them smell its wonderful fragrance and tell them you're going home to make pesto.

The recipe I have below is not a very exact one. I've given some measurements, but they're really more guidelines than they are proven. Normally, I start off with this as a basis, and keep on adding things until it tastes really good.

I suppose you could do this with basil leaves from the grocery store. I'm guessing that a bag of basil translates into four cups of packed leaves. But I've never measured it that way before, so let me know if you try this. Be warned, fresh herbs from the grocery store are ludicrously expensive. I blame yuppies.

Last summer, I brought home three grocery bags full of basil. Even though it's starting to get cold, I think that this weekend, I'll go back to the market and pick up another because it's just so good to have around in the winter. After you finish with it, put it in small plastic containers and stick them in your freezer. Then, when it's dark and gloomy outside, add it to penne or ravioli as a sauce; spread it on fresh bread, and make glowing open-faced sandwiches; or whisk it into hearty homemade soups. I guarantee it will put a smile on your face.



  • 500mL basil leaves, packed (a big bunch of basil, about 10 plants worth)
  • 125mL pine nuts
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 125mL parmigiano reggiano cheese, optional
  • 100mL extra virgin olive oil
  • 5mL salt
  • 10mL black pepper


  1. Pick off the leaves of basil and discard the stalks. Basil is pretty sandy, so you'll have to wash it well. Do this by keeping two large pots of water. Put the leaves in one, swirl it around, and scoop out the basil into the second pot. The sand will have settled to the bottom of the first pot of water, so dump it out, wash it, and fill it with fresh water. Repeat until you no longer find sand settled in the pots.
  2. Toast your pine nuts in a small skillet over low heat. Keep an eye on them, because they burn easily. You can skip the toasting, but it adds a wonderful aroma to the sauce. You can also substitute cashews for pine nuts, as they are cheaper. Or use almonds, which add a unique flavour.
  3. Peel your garlic. Smashing it is the easiest way. Then fry the cloves lightly until they start to smell good. This gets rid of any acridness.
  4. Get out your food processor. Don't try using a blender because you'll burn out the motor (which I have done). You could also do this by hand, in a mortar and pestle, but that is more an expression of love than it is of cookery.
  5. Into your food processor, add the nuts and garlic. Then grate in the cheese, which you can leave out if you're vegan. Add a generous splash olive oil to the mixture.
  6. Start the machine. It should make short work of the hard stuff, which should start forming a coarse meal.
  7. Add handfuls of the basil at a time, which should grind up to form a bright green paste. When it starts getting really thick, add more olive oil. By the end, you should have something that has the viscocity of mayonnaise. It probably won't be very smooth, because of those pine nuts, but a bit of texture is delicious.
  8. Stop the food processor and add the salt and pepper. Run the machine again for a while, and then taste it. You may have to add more salt to bring out the flavour of the basil. Or less if you're substituting with a saltier cheese.

Makes 3 cups of pesto.


( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
12th Oct, 2005 02:15 (UTC)
Yum AND slather. We grow Italian basil in our greenhouse and make lots of pesto. We also dry some of it, and thai basil, for seasoning.

You can make this recipe non-dairy (vegan?) by substituting nutritional yeast for the cheese. We do that and it's a reasonable facsimile (experiment with the quantity of nutritional yeast carefully lest you make it too yeasty).
12th Oct, 2005 02:30 (UTC)
I never thought of using nutritional yeast to substitute for my vegan friends, as I have some batches in the freezer just for them. I shall have to pick some up, and see if it makes things better.
12th Oct, 2005 02:17 (UTC)
and buy the best parmigiano reggiano cheese you can afford b/c it's worth it.
12th Oct, 2005 02:31 (UTC)
I find that just getting real parmigiano reggiano is good enough, since I bias my pestos more towards being intensely basil, rather than being very cheesy.

I'll leave the best of the best to eat with ludicrously expensive balsamic vinegar. Oh wow, I'm making myself hungry.
12th Oct, 2005 03:15 (UTC)
When we were in Italy, I avoided Modena so that I would not ever know the difference between just ok balsamic vinegar and spectacular must-have eat-your-wallet balsamic vinegar.
13th Oct, 2005 14:04 (UTC)

I sometimes substitute cheaper romano cheese instead. I find it works.
12th Oct, 2005 03:55 (UTC)
I love the picture. Almost like you are sneaking up on the basil :-)
12th Oct, 2005 06:56 (UTC)
That's the best picture I've seen in weeks!
12th Oct, 2005 13:00 (UTC)
sfllaw, you look like some sort of basil pervert. And you know that's not far from the truth!
12th Oct, 2005 15:34 (UTC)
I've been discovered!
12th Oct, 2005 13:35 (UTC)

I await the recipe for Anti-Pesto. :)
12th Oct, 2005 15:34 (UTC)
Hmm... Wouldn't that involve more clay, and less food?
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )