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August 1, 2014 / Leslie

Cooking from the Garden: Bountiful Basil

This year, the weather has been perfect for my herb garden. For the past few weeks, the garden has been flourishing. The herbs are at their peak, and I have been using them in my recipes as often as possible. Don’t have an herb garden? Fresh herbs are readily available at farmer’s markets, and don’t forget family, friends and kindly neighbors. I often surprise people with ‘herb bouquets’.

For the next few weeks I’ll be featuring recipes from the garden. Today, basil is at its peak.


I have many uses for basil, but one of my favorites is fresh pesto sauce.


The authentic way to make pesto is to use a mortar and pestle. I don’t always have the time to spend crushing and grinding, but still want my pesto to taste good, and have the right texture and feel. Dumping all the ingredients into a blender is quick, but doesn’t produce the best results. I’ve been making pesto for years now, and in the process have discovered a few short cuts that are a good compromise.

Recipe: Basil Pesto


• 1 medium clove of garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
• ¼ teaspoon coarse salt
• 36 fresh basil leaves
• 1 tablespoon freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
• 1 tablespoon freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
• ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
• ½ pound of pasta (230 g for the rest of the planet)


Using a mortar and pestle, lightly crush together the garlic, salt and pine nuts. Add the basil leaves to the mixture. Here’s where I cheat: The next step is to add the basil, but before I do, I lightly cut it up using a knife or small food processor. Then I add it to the mortar and finish crushing. Gradually add the cheese. When mixed, transfer back to the food processor and add the oil. Pulse several time to mix the ingredients. Cook pasta to taste, drain and add pesto. Makes 4 servings.

If I’m really short on time, I crush the garlic, salt and pine nuts using the mortar and pestle, then transfer it to the food processor. Next, add the basil to the food processor and pulse a few times, just until it’s chopped. Then add the cheese and pulse until mixed. Add the oil and pulse a few more times.

Mezze Penne with Pesto

Penne with Pesto Sauce

About the ingredients

  • I never use a substitute for the pine nuts, even thought they are outrageously expensive. It completely changes the taste. Toasting the pine nuts releases their flavor, but be careful, they burn easily.
  • Reggiano Parmesan is imported and has a sharper taste than the domestic brands, and Pecorino Romano is made using goat cheese, a distinct taste all its own.
  • Fresh basil is best, but properly frozen basil will work too. Basil will last over the winter if it’s coated in oil and frozen at its peak. The color of the basil will darken due to the freezing, but the taste will be almost the same.
  • Extra-virgin olive oil has a different taste than the basic olive oil, which is used for frying.

Now I given up all my secrets for making authentic pesto. Any tasty variations I can try?

wkendcookingThis post is linked to Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads.
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Leave a Comment
  1. BermudaOnion / Aug 1 2014 12:59 pm

    Oh my gosh, that looks heavenly!


  2. irene / Aug 1 2014 1:04 pm

    I’m drooling. Love pesto. My basil is doing well this year too.


    • Leslie / Aug 2 2014 4:24 pm

      Our mild summer has been perfect for all my herbs and most of the veggies. Cucumbers and squash seem a little put off by the lack of scorching heat but they are still producing, just not as much.


  3. Suko / Aug 1 2014 5:49 pm

    Leslie, that penne looks sooo good. I grow basil and you’ve given me some fresh inspiration.


  4. diane / Aug 1 2014 7:18 pm

    We just finished eating and how I’m hungry again –}


  5. Beth F / Aug 2 2014 8:09 am

    This is a great recipe — it uses way less cheese than I usually use in pesto. I think I’d like the lightness.


    • Leslie / Aug 2 2014 8:20 am

      So many of the recipes have way too much cheese. With pesto you’re supposed to taste the oil and basil, and I never understood packing all that cheese and calories into it. I serve this at room temperature – it’s a summer dish for us and usually for alfresco dining.


  6. stacybuckeye / Aug 2 2014 8:12 am

    I’ve never made my own pesto and this looks delicious. I love the idea of sharing with a neighbor. I’ve never grown enough for that, but now I want to grow so I can share! For the first itme we are growing tomatoes and they are doing well. I was afraid the wildlife would find them, but so far so good 🙂


    • Leslie / Aug 2 2014 8:24 am

      I’ve had an occasional bunny eat a tomato or two, but the wildlife mostly leaves them alone. Now lettuce, beans and broccoli – the bunnies will devour those so they need a fence.


      • stacybuckeye / Aug 2 2014 8:29 am

        We have lots of bunnies and deer and this is the first time I’ve planted in the ground instead of in pots. Maybe I’ll be more inspired next year!


      • Leslie / Aug 2 2014 10:21 am

        I moved all my herbs into whiskey barrels – best decision I ever made. Now, no critters eat them – maybe a bug or two and some caterpillars, and the caterpillars are welcome as long as they turn into butterflies. As a bonus, the barrels are steps away from my backdoor, so they are easy to pick fresh.


  7. tinabakesbread / Aug 2 2014 8:55 am

    Don’t you just love the aroma if fresh basil when you pick it. Thanks for a great recipe here!


    • Leslie / Aug 2 2014 4:22 pm

      Sometimes I pick herb bouquets for my kitchen just to savor the smell!


  8. Sarah @ Sarah's Book Shelves / Aug 2 2014 10:43 am

    I love basil pesto and it freezes so well. A great use for a ton of extra basil you have on hand…


  9. Trish / Aug 2 2014 4:03 pm

    Looks SO delicious!! I’ve only made pesto once and those pine nuts were expensive, but it was so good. I have heard of people freezing pesto but I’m the only one in my family who eats it (so far) so haven’t tried it yet.


    • Leslie / Aug 2 2014 4:21 pm

      I haven’t tried freezing the pesto but I have frozen the leftover pasta with the pesto on it for my lunches, and that was still delicious several weeks later. My husband will only grudgingly eat it a few times a year but I still make it for me.


  10. Esme (@cococroissants) / Aug 2 2014 6:24 pm

    I adore homemade pesto-your basil looks great.


  11. joyweesemoll / Aug 3 2014 10:48 am

    I make my pesto similar to yours, but leave out the cheese and salt. Then, I freeze it in ice cube trays so that I can enjoy that fresh basil flavor all winter — one or two cubes at a time.


  12. Carol / Aug 4 2014 1:22 pm

    Looks delicious. I’ve actually never tried making my own pesto, although I do grow basil in my herb garden.


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