A few weeks ago I was gifted a few rather large bags of basil. Maybe four or five gallons, loose? I dunno. It was a lot of basil. An overwhelming amount.
Generally I would be totally excited about this – I LOVE basil. But the truth is, I have so little time these days that getting “exciting” foodstuffs for cooking usually just feels like another thing to feel guilty about not accomplishing on the to-do list. However, I refuse to allow food to go to waste, and I have an historically unhealthy relationship with free stuff (I can’t say no to free stuff – really, it’s a problem). So when my boss offered these bags of basil, I accepted and brought them home to a new and glorious life as…you guessed it, pesto.
What the heck else is there to do with that much basil?
Once at home, I took stock of what was around the house (after all, it was “make use of old stuff” day, not “go to the store for a bunch of expensive stuff you need to make something fancy” day).
In the fridge, I discovered something terrifying that had escaped its jar and was taking over a corner (and had possibly called for reinforcements). Don’t judge me – I told you I’ve been busy.
(insert several hours of frantic and disgusted cleaning, here)
Er, sometimes necessity is the best excuse for thorough fridge-purging? Ahem. Anyway, among the more savory items I unearthed were:
– several bags of slightly wilty but otherwise totally fine – or at least passable – basil, gifted from boss
-2 bunches of spinach, which when picked over wasn’t actually as bad as it looked in the bag in the back of the fridge
-a cup or so of fresh pine nuts
-the end-bit of a wedge of aged asiago cheese
-a bulb of garlic
-some coarse sea salt
-some olive oil
-a big bag of organic walnuts I’d forgotten about in the back of the pantry
And so, this pesto was born. And you know what? It was delicious. Some of the best I’ve made.
Far as I’m concerned, any time you get a bunch of herbs and run them through a food processor with some oil, it’s pesto. Yes, it might be kind of an unorthodox pesto, but it still counts in my book. So hey, experiment: use what you have on-hand. Maybe you’ll come up with something cool.
And d’you know what I love most about pesto? You can freeze it. You can even freeze it IN ice cube trays or ramekins, the better to portion it out for use. You can have fresh, home-made pesto ANY TIME YOU WANT.
I love that.
This recipe is simple. It will accept unending substitutions. It will help you clean out your fridge, it will come to your aid on those nights when you just don’t know what to make for dinner (pesto mini-pizzas – perfect!), and is very, very tasty. So next time someone tries to give you a truckload of basil (what, that doesn’t happen all the time?), just smile and say yes – you won’t regret it.
Spinach and Basil Pesto
1 gallon basil leaves, picked off the stem, washed, and dried
1-2 bunches spinach, also picked, washed, and dried
5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
1/2 c (or more) hard cheese, diced. I use asiago, but parmesan/romano are good too.
1/2 c FRESH pine nuts. Always keep these in your fridge – they go rancid very easily.
1 c walnuts (you can use all pine nuts, or all walnuts – I like a mix of both)
the juice of one lemon
enough olive/sunflower oil to pull everything into a paste of your desired consistency (I used about 1/2 cup and it was very thick).
salt and pepper, to taste
In batches, pulse all dry ingredients together in a food processor until thoroughly chopped. I had to do several batches because of how much basil/spinach I had, and I found that pulsing it WITH the walnuts helped it move around enough to break down easily without too much interference from me.
Once everything is chopped down, add the lemon juice and start the food processor on low. Then drizzle in the olive oil a little at a time until it all comes together into a homogeneous paste. Some folks like it very thick, others want it almost pourable. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
This pesto will keep for a few weeks in the fridge (especially if you pour a little bit of olive oil on top of it in the jar to prevent oxidation).
If you make a lot like I did, you will likely want to freeze some. For this I use ice cube trays, putting about 2Tbsp of prepared pesto into each cube-space, and covering the whole tray with a layer of plastic wrap. About 12 hours in the fridge should be plenty to get them hardened up, and then you can transfer them into a freezer-safe plastic bag for longer-term storage.
These pesto cubes can be melted into pasta , thawed and spread on pizza or crostini, or added into a bechamel for a creamy topping to lasagna, veggies, or meats. It makes a great rub for chicken or fish, and can be stirred into a prepared vinaigrette for a zingy and interesting salad dressing.