The basic recipe, or technique, for pesto is to combine basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, salt, and nuts. It can me made quickly in a food processor, or more enjoyably, and with better flavor, with a mortar and pestle, my recommended technique.
If you have the time, use the latter method; the flavors will be deeper, the color brighter, and you will have spent a few minutes to yourself inhaling the essence of summer. This process does take a little more time, but it is worth it. Of course, if you have huge bunches of basil to process, use the food processor.
As much as we love pesto made with basil, you can use just about any herb you like, alone or in combination. Create whatever flavor profile makes you happiest, or whatever uses what you have available that day. I love the addition of lemon verbena, lemon balm, or lemon thyme to the mix, and if I am short of basil, flat-leaf parsley makes a great extender.
2 to 4 garlic cloves (adjust according to your liking and the size of the cloves)
1/3 cup Italian pine nuts or walnuts, optional, you can use any nut you like or leave them out altogether
2 tightly packed cups of fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup or so of olive oil of choice
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
If you are using a mortar and pestle, start by crushing the garlic with a little salt. You want it to become a paste. Add the nuts, a little at a time, and work them into a paste with the garlic. Follow with the basil, a little at a time, and crush to the desired consistency. Slowly add your olive oil, just to the thickness you desire, and stir in your cheese.
If you are using a food processor, whirl up the garlic and nuts first, then add the leaves, followed by olive oil drizzled in. Whirl in the cheese at the end, and process to the texture you desire. I usually add a squeeze of lemon juice as well.
Freeze what you don’t use, no special fussing, just place in a container and pop in the freezer.
Now enjoy your creation! Pesto is delicious as a simple pasta sauce, but you can use it as a flavor bullet when added to stir-fries, soups, casseroles, etc. Just add a little at a time and taste as you go. It is a great garnish on appetizers as well, think cherry tomato, hollowed out a little filled with goat cheese and topped with a dollop of pesto.