If you’re growing basil in your garden right now, chances are it’s lush and abundant. Last weekend, a friend of mine plucked a huge handful of leggy basil stalks from her garden for me to take home, and I decided to capture the herb’s distinctive, robust spiciness in a batch of pesto.
Recipes abound for this vibrant Italian sauce, but I like to wing it when I make pesto – sometimes I use pine nuts, but often I use walnuts (and I always toast the nuts first – it makes a big difference in the flavor). I throw in a clump of washed basil leaves (be sure to remove the stems first), a half cup or so of freshly grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and olive oil. I blend it all in the food processor, add more olive oil if necessary, then taste again.
Sometimes I brighten the sauce with a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice, sometimes I add a bit more cheese or salt and pepper; but after the adjustments it always ends up tasting fabulous. Pesto is so versatile – you can drizzle it on grilled meats, spread it on a pizza, toss it with a batch of pasta, or even add a dollop or two to homemade soup. And, if you have lots of basil, plan to make a big batch of pesto – it freezes beautifully, and it’s a real pleasure to savor the sauce’s summery, vivacious flavor when it’s cold and blustery outside.