HOME-MADE PESTO

Summer is slowly coming to an end,the beautiful Fall season with all it’s deep rich colors will soon begin,for now let’s not talk about the season that follows Fall and rejoice in the bounties of what the earth has to offer, this season.

A late summer evening
A late summer evening

Honestly, I cannot remember how this sweet basil came into existence in my container gardening , yet here it is growing abundantly happy with its fresh green leaves & the sweet fragrance,me thinks it was from the gift the teacher gave my kid, at the end of fourth grade to remember the beautiful school year they had, either way I encourage my child to do some “digging the soil” in the containers with me, any time he shows even the slightest interest…..those little fingers sowed the seeds & here we are reaping the bountiful summer harvest.

The Sweet Basil plant
The Sweet Basil plant

Growing up in a land where Basil ( Tulasi/ Holy Basil) is worshipped as a Goddess who protects our home & family, I had no idea that people used basil in regular cooking.Back in India, we have it in the “Theertha” (holy water) given to us in the temple after the priest’s blessing, I remember my Grand mom telling me it was a potent medicinal herb for relieving a nasty cold or flu like symptoms,” Look” she said one day when we got into one of those philosophical conversations that I so enjoyed having with her, “Our generation had good immunity, we never caught a cold or fever, rarely!…all we did was walk to the village temple twice each day and pray from our heart & drink the “theertha”/holy water, it took care of everything !” Maybe, b’coz I loved her so, Tulasi theertha to this day holds it’s magic to me .

Holy Basil
Holy Basil

Now what could have prompted this Italian venture into cooking?? Without a doubt it is the audio book “Eat Pray Love” by Elizabeth Gilbert,I listened to recently. Oh, the way she describes the Italian food, makes you crave for that food….so here I am making a simple Homemade Pesto,to begin with.

The word “Pesto” comes from the Italian verb “pestare” which means to pound, to crush, “in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and wooden pestle.

Mortar & Pestle used to make Pesto Picture courtesy : from the net
Mortar & Pestle used to make Pesto
Picture courtesy : from the net

The ingredients in a traditionally made pesto are ground with a circular motion of the pestle in the mortar. This same Latin root through Old French also gave rise to the English word pestle”.It is an uncooked sauce made of  basil, parmesan, olive oil and pine nuts. It comes from Genoa, in the Liguria region of Italy.

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“Basil, the main ingredient of modern pesto, likely originated in India and was first domesticated there. Basil took the firmest root in the regions of Liguria, Italy and Provence, France.

Sweet Basil Leaves
Sweet Basil Leaves

The Ligurians around Genoa took the dish and adapted it, using a combination of basil, crushed garlic, grated hard cheese (a mix of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino or just one of the two), and pine nuts with a little olive oil to form pesto. Each family from Liguria often has its own pesto recipe with slight differences to the traditional pesto alla Genovese recipe”…. and so the story goes, now, it has found itself in my home…..Ah! how beautifully Mother Earth connects people, no borders absolutely, spreading its flavor all around.

Sweet Basil Leaves
Sweet Basil Leaves

The concept of storing food for future was a realization that dawned very late for me ,after stepping into this country, when things like” winter storms” & “stuck in snow indoors” were real life events, growing up, I remember the little cart guy who would push his cart of fresh vegetables as he walked by each each home, yelling out the names of his bountiful crop, we got to pick vegetables even when the pot was set to cook on the stove,”organic” was not even a word those days, coz everything came directly from the farm, fresh off the plant……now , we get to eat, frozen vegetables, frozen chicken, frozen fish which has travelled half the globe to get into our refrigerator, so we are slowly becoming a culture that is getting used to “frozen food” (if you understand what it means to dig all that snow, bundle up & step out to get that one can of milk, coz’ it decides to empty itself on that blessed day when there is a snow storm ! )So, this Pesto recipe has tips for,both the readily use kind & the “freeze for future” kind.

Ingredients:
1.Sweet Basil leaves- 3 cups,tightly packed ( after washing & drying it with paper towels )
2.Pine nuts- 1/2 cup
3.Garlic- 4-5 cloves ( says the recipe, but can we ever stop with that ? No! I added 8-10, the more the merrier )
4.Parmesan cheese- 1/2 cup (freshly grated)
5.Extra virgin Olive Oil- 1/2 cup
6.Salt – to taste
7.Freshly ground Pepper- 1/2 tsp ( add more if you like it spicier )

Method:
In a food processor or blender, blend together basil, nuts, garlic, and cheese. Pour in oil slowly while still mixing, and then add in salt and pepper. Scrape down the sides and pulse once more to make sure it’s well-blended……and your Pesto is ready!

Home- made Pesto
Home- made Pesto

Storing it for immediate use: Place the Pesto in an airtight jar, sprinkle some Olive oil on top, keeps the air out of the Pesto & extends the life of the Pesto for a week.
Storing it for Future ( the days when you thank yourself, for not having to step out in that cold for that one GREEN thing! )- Freeze it in Ice cube trays, that way you can control your portions & thaw only what you need.Spray some cooking oil into the ice cube trays, before you pour in the Pesto, makes it easier to remove & also preserves it longer.
Variations of the Ingredients:
For basil: herbs (like parsley, cilantro, sage, mint, tarragon, dill, etc), greens (spinach, arugula, etc.), veggies (asparagus, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, etc.)
For pine nuts: walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, hemp seeds, etc.
For parmesan: romano, asiago, nutritional yeast, etc.
To Spice it up, other spices like: (cayenne, chile powder, ginger, nutmeg, paprika, peppers, etc.), fresh ginger can also be used .
This Homemade Pesto can be widely used in your pasta with some add on veggies or meat,along with mashed potatoes, in soups, as a spread or a dip,drizzle it atop grilled meat or fish or add it in your sauce or curry…it’s a winner all the way.
Go on pick those basil leaves today & make jars of Pesto for the winter days, when seeing green anywhere becomes a distant memory . Enjoy!
Helpful Tip: To let your basil leaves grow fresh & healthy, trim the flowers as soon as they appear, this lets the plant grow abundantly.

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