Perfect Pesto

Every summer my mom and I make pesto using the basil from her garden. The plants get to be quite large; about waist high and two feet across. Lovely leafy green stuff. Just before the plants start to flower, it's time to pick.

You need a fair amount of leaves to make a good batch of pesto. For every 1 cup or 8 oz of pesto, you need about 8 cups of leaves. If you can, it's best to make a double batch and freeze it (more on that later). But if you just want a small amount for a pasta sauce or to spread over some prawns or chicken, then the batch can be halved to produce less.

There are many recipes available out there in Interwebz Land for pesto but honestly with time we have created our own and basically now just eyeball it with our tastebuds. The basic ingredients are the same though.

fresh basil leaves
extra virgin olive oil
ground pine nuts (though we have used ground almonds as well)
ground parmesan cheese (the real stuff, not the cheap stuff that comes in a green and red shaker ..cough, cough)
2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (not the paste or the pre-minced stuff from a jar; you want the garlic to be fresh)

Having a food processor is also pretty essential. I suppose it could be done in a blender, except probably in smaller amounts and the end result may not be as smooth. The use of a food processor also allows me to drizzle the oil in while it's still running, which would cause quite a mess if attempted while using a blender.

So, to begin . . . .we strip all the leaves off the stalks. These then go in the food processor. Let 'er spin until the leaves are all munched down into a dark green goo. If you're going to add the garlic cloves, now would be the time. Start to drizzle in the oil until the mixture starts to turn more freely. Then add in the ground pine nuts and parmesan, adding more oil to get a nice, smooth consistency. It usually works out to:

1 cup / 8 oz of pine nuts
1 cup / 8 oz of parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup / 12 oz of the oil.

Give or take.

Once it's all blended and tasty, it's read . Well, sort of. You can use it right away but we have found it's better if it sits at room temperature for about an hour before using. This allows the flavours time to blend. Then it can be used in a sauce, brushed over chicken, or with a bit more oil; and a marinade brushed over prawns.

We don't like to store leftover pesto in the refrigerator. We find the oil separates from the other ingredients and the garlic becomes stronger somehow. Instead, we fill an ice cube tray with the remaining pesto, cover with wax paper, and freeze. Then we pop the cubes into a freezer bag. When needed, the pesto cubes are a perfect size to quickly thaw out, and we only need to thaw as much as what's needed.

Just remember to thoroughly wash the ice cube trays out before using them again for making ice. There was an incident once when bits of greenery were left behind and the resulting ice cubes were slightly green. Now the running joke is "rye and ginger, hold the garlic and greens."