Saturday, November 7, 2015

BASIL AND PESTO


Pesto was an unfamiliar word in our home until about ten years ago. One of my daughters and I were out of town treating ourselves to dinner in a gourmet restaurant. Our pasta had been topped with pesto in place of the customary tomato sauce. It was surprisingly delicious!  The next spring, my daughter suggested that I grow basil and make our own pesto. Okay. Sure. Why not? For me, the most inviting aspect of making and eating pesto was that the main ingredient, most often basil, remains raw from start to stomach. 

When I looked into purchasing basil seeds, lo and behold! There sure were a lot of basil varieties from which to choose!
All with differing flavors! I grew several kinds of basil that first spring:

AROMA
FINISSIMO
GENOVESE
ITALIAN LARGE LEAF
LEMON
LETTUCE LEAF
MAMMOTH SWEET
PROFUMO
PURPLE RUFFLES
RED LETTUCE LEAVED
SIAM QUEEN
SWEET BASIL 
SWEET DANI




Here are photos of a few basil varieties:
RED LETTUCE BASIL



  AROMA BASIL




 MAMMOTH SWEET BASIL



SWEET DANI BASIL


Basil is a heat loving plant. Even the greenhouse was a little too cool to suit basil most nights. They looked miserable. 
So, all of the basil plants were grown in a big south facing window inside our home for the entire summer. 

Basil leaves are not only fragrant and delicious, but are truly beautiful. It is no wonder that basil is loved not only by humans, but even more so by aphids! Tiny flies sneak up and lay eggs under, over and all around the basil leaves. In no time at all, there are countless tiny aphids adorning your basil plants! The aphids will gradually suck the life out of your basil plants! My very favorite basil is named Sweet Dani. It tastes like lemon drops! Unfortunately, it is an aphid magnet. Sweet Dani is consistently the first basil each year to attract aphids.
I TOOK THIS SWEET DANI BASIL PLANT OUTSIDE TO SPRAY OFF APHIDS. I USED A WATERING HOSE AND GENTLY SPRAYED ALL AROUND THE LEAVES.
LOOK CLOSELY. THERE WERE STILL TINY GREEN APHIDS CLINGING HERE AND THERE.
NO SURPRISE. I SHOOK AND WIPED OFF ALL REMAINING APHIDS.

A LITTLE BLACK FLY LANDED JUST BEHIND SOME APHIDS 
AS I TOOK THIS PHOTO!





It is possible to keep basil plants healthy and free of aphids throughout the summer. But, if you garden organically, it is a lot of work.



THERE IS A SIMPLE SOLUTION TO THIS PROBLEM! 
Pesto made with basil is delicious. But, pesto made with many other herbs and vegetables is every bit as delicious!  Besides basil, use plants that grow cheerfully and plentifully outside in your gardens and in the wild as your main ingredient! Think of pesto as you think of jam. Jam can be made from a variety of edible berries and fruits. Pesto can be made from a variety of edible herbs and vegetables! 









Let's have a look at the
RECIPE FOR PESTO

Let's use basil this time as our main ingredient.
Here is a MAMMOTH SWEET BASIL plant ready to trim:





Using clean scissors or a sharp knife, trim off all but the smallest leaves on the plant:
After trimming, return your plant with it's tiny remaining leaves to a sunny window.
It will fill out again in no time!



INGREDIENTS:
- 4 cups of fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 cup of olive oil
- 2 or 3 cloves of garlic
OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS:
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup of finely ground nuts or seeds 
- 1 cup of finely ground or shredded, fresh parmesan 
   cheese. Cut parmesan cheese into small chunks and whiz 
   in the food processor until finely ground.




I use a food processor to make pesto. If you do not have a food processor or do not want to use a food processor, it can all be done by hand: 

- Crush the basil with a mortar and pestle or something similar.

- Put the garlic through a garlic press.

- Grind the nuts or seeds in a hand grinder.

- Grate the cheese with a fine hand grater.




DIRECTIONS USING A FOOD PROCESSOR:
Place the garlic cloves and nuts in the bowl of the food processor:


          Mix until pieces are uniform in size:



Now place the basil leaves in the bowl of your food processor on top of the mixed garlic and nuts:



Mix until it looks well blended:


Add the prepared 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese: 

Mix the cheese in until it is well blended.




Finally, pour the olive oil over the top of the mixture in the food processor. Mix the olive oil in for 15 or 20 seconds.




That's all there is to it! Finished product:





Place the freshly made pesto in covered containers. I like 8 or 12 ounce sized glass jars.  The pesto will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks. You can also store the containers of pesto in the freezer for later use. Pour an additional tiny bit of olive oil on the top surface of the pesto before covering the container and freezing. It will likely protect and prolong the flavor of the pesto in the freezer.








BE CREATIVE WITH PESTO!
We have used a number of substitutes for the basil in the basic pesto recipe. We used herbs and vegetables from our gardens and from the wild including those in the photos below. Feel free to add, subtract or modify the accompanying ingredients in the recipe to accommodate your own individual tastes:

   BEACH ASPARAGUS




            BEETS




            CHIVES




   COLLARD GREENS




   FRENCH SORREL




   KALE (LACINATO)




         LEEKS




   NEW ZEALAND SPINACH




SHISO (DISTINCT CINNAMON/CLOVE FLAVOR AND AROMA)






THE RESULTS? PESTO! IN A WIDE VARIETY OF COLORS AND FLAVORS!




The only pesto that involved any cooking was made with beets. Beets can be used raw, but I baked them in a covered container at 375 degrees for about one hour until just tender. The peels slip off easily after baking.

Since writing this, a reader shared that she loves to make pesto from garlic scapes. Her very favorite pesto is made from the tender greens on the top of carrots. Wow!

Another shared idea is to make pesto from the loose leaves surrounding brussels sprouts.

Have you made an unusual pesto? It would be interesting to hear about it. Please write in the comment section below.



SUGGESTIONS FOR EATING PESTO:
- Spread pesto on crackers or bread to accompany soup. 
- Spread pesto on toast and top with a couple of fried eggs.
- Instead of spreading tomato sauce on pizza dough, spread
   pesto.
- In place of mayo in sandwiches, use pesto.
- Use pesto as a topping on pasta, rice or cooked grains.
- Spread pesto over fish... especially salmon and halibut.
- Add pesto to soup for flavor.
- Top baked, boiled or roasted potatoes with pesto. 
- Add pesto to mashed potatoes.
- Add pesto into the mix when making scrambled eggs or 
   omelets. 
- Dip chips into pesto.
- Add pesto to ground deer meat to make burgers or meat loaf. We do
  not add pork fat to our ground deer meat. So, the texture and flavor 
  benefit from the olive oil, cheese, garlic and vegetables in the pesto.


PESTO IN GROUND DEER MEAT FOR BURGERS:
When we were hungry for burgers, I thawed a pint jar of leek pesto and a vacuumed pack of ground deer meat (it is enough deer meat for about 10 medium-sized burgers).


The entire jar of pesto and the pack of ground deer meat went into the KitchenAid mixer bowl along with two cups of whole oats. 





Once mixed well, the prepared meat was formed into burgers and cooked on medium high heat in a large fry pan until well done. 

Because this particular pint of leek pesto was not prepared with grated parmesan cheese, slices of cheese were melted on top of the burgers the last few minutes of cooking by covering the pan with a lid.



Once the burgers were cooked, each person added their favorite condiments. I love adding pickled beach asparagus to just about everything! Here is my burger in a croissant:
Yum!!!













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