02 September 2009

i heart pesto

{For the record, I spent about half an hour typing up this post while eating breakfast this morning, only to have the computer battery die with no warning, and deleting my entire post. This confirms my need to purchase a new battery. Argh!}

It’s kind of hard to tell what this is a photo of. I suppose it looks like it could pretty much be a bowl of just about anything. I promise you, though, it’s a photo of a very delicious, and more importantly quick and easy, dinner that I cooked up on Monday evening. It’s a bowl of orzo cooked in vegetable broth, mixed with roasted zucchini and toasted walnuts, topped off with some garden fresh pesto.

Aaaahhh pesto…one of my absolute favorite summer foods. I remember my mom making pesto in the summers and freezing batches in little plastic containers (I actually distinctly remember her using the goat cheese containers) for us to enjoy in the winter. Even though she makes pesto all the time, I don’t remember ever making it with her. Not that it’s that hard, but I just don’t remember ever doing it. In fact, I clearly remember the first time I did make pesto. It was my junior year in college and I had just moved into the environmental coop house on campus, along with sixteen other students who would be my housemates for the next five months.

The way Weybridge (that’s the name of the house) worked, was that every weeknight, two residents would be responsible for cooking a meal for all seventeen of us, plus some guests (and there were almost always guests). When cooking a meal for this many people, some planning and communication is pretty much a requirement. Well, the first meal that I had signed up to cook was that very first week of the semester. To get the hang of the routine, I teamed up with a veteran resident, Mickey. Unfortunately, Mickey and I did not have the necessary planning and communication to pull off an amazing first meal of the semester. Well, actually, Mickey had a plan. I think he had spent the previous summer in Italy (or, I think he was just Italian) and he wanted to make pasta from scratch, with pesto.

I sat around the kitchen for a while and Mickey did not show up. As the clock ticked dangerously close to dinner-time, I began to think of an alternate meal plan. But just then, Mickey walked into the kitchen, still maintaining his original menu, even though there was clearly not enough time for homemade pasta (especially whole wheat pasta, which takes longer to cook than traditional pasta) and started ordering me around.

I was put in charge of making the pesto. The first step was to head out front to our garden and pick some basil. At the time, I was not much of a gardener, or even cook, and after standing around the small garden for a while, I’m pretty sure I ended up picking some spinach instead of basil. So, we inadvertently had some pretty delicious spinach pesto that evening (and it was delicious).

As I’m sure you know pesto is not difficult to make, at all. In fact, it almost feels like cheating to even share this recipe, since not only is it a recipe for pesto (something which barely requires a recipe), but it’s not even anything special. No surprise ingredients, no secret tricks or techniques. That afternoon, I wrote down Mickey’s recipe on a scrap of paper, taped it into my recipe book, and it’s what I’ve followed ever since. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to add some roasted red peppers, or sundried tomatoes, this recipe would be a good base to start from.

This summer, I was really set on growing enough basil to allow me to make a lot of pesto to freeze. Despite my ten basil plants, they hadn’t yet grown large enough to get me more than two batches of pesto this summer. But, after a bunch of rain and intermittent sunshine over the past few weeks, they seem to have exploded just a little. On Monday, I harvested three whole cups of basil (while still leaving a bunch of leaves on the plants, in the hopes that I’ll get another batch of pesto before the season ends) and made a double batch of pesto. I filled one half-pint jar and threw it in the freezer, and mixed the rest into my orzo with zucchini and walnuts.

Basic Pesto (a la Mickey)

Note: I do not use the parmesan in this recipe, so my version requires a little more salt than if you were to use the cheese. Even if you do prefer parmesan, do not add it in if you plan to freeze the pesto. For freezing: make the recipe without the parmesan and then stir in the cheese after you’ve defrosted it before serving. This way, it freezes better, and keeps you prepared for any non-dairy eating guests you might have!

1 1/2 cups fresh basil

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts (toasted)

3/4 cup parmesan (optional)

salt and pepper, to taste

1/4 cup olive oil

In a small food processor, combine basil, garlic, nuts, salt, and pepper (Amanda said she uses a mortar and pestle for this, which I've never tried, but frankly now I'm curious!). If you were adding cheese and not freezing it, you would put that in now as well. Pulse until all ingredients are well combined. Drizzle in olive oil as the processor is going. Spoon over your meal or into a jar for freezing and Voila!


  1. making pesto is one of my favorite late-summer rituals. but then i usually realize i still have pesto left over in the freezer from last summer... it's a "special treat" that i save for special occasions. i really must remember to enjoy it.

  2. I must make that bowl of orzo deliciousness...and pesto!