This recipe comes from Joy of Cooking, however my preparation method is different from theirs. I don't know about you, but my mortar and pestle don't see a lot of action anymore. Use a blender. Trust me on this one.
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 large cloves garlic
1 1/2 cups basil leaves, firmly packed
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
First off, you have to grow the basil. You can buy it fresh at the store, but a seed packet only costs about a dollar. Talk about getting plenty of bang for your buck! It's easy to grow. Just sow the seeds in your garden or in a pot, keep it watered, and then stand back and watch it explode.
Pick the basil when it's about two feet tall, preferably before it starts to bloom. Alas, I was in Atlanta when I should've been making pesto. Give the plants a few slaps before you cut it, and then shake each bunch before you start snipping off the leaves to help get rid of the bugs--because there will be bugs! Tiny little spiders and assorted leaf hoppers like basil as much as we do. Once you've got a nice big bowlful of leaves, toss them a few times. Most of the bugs and any other debris will go to the bottom. You can rinse the leaves if you like, but I never do unless the leaves are dusty. They're easier to work with when dry.
Pack the leaves into a 2 cup measuring cup to the level of 1 1/2 cups. This is about two really big handfuls of leaves. I like to use a separate measuring cup for each ingredient. Believe me, getting Parmesan cheese out of a measuring cup that's had olive oil in it isn't easy!
Pour the olive oil into the blender. I didn't start taking pictures until my third batch, so my blender looks a bit green and gnarly.
Add the pine nuts (pricey little devils!)...
and the garlic. That's actually one clove in the picture. I grew elephant garlic this year, so the cloves are huge. If yours are small, you can use 3 or 4.
Cover the blender and blend on a high speed until smooth. Your first batch won't be this green!
Reduce the blender to the lowest speed, remove the lid, and add the basil leaves. If you add them a few at a time, they'll get sucked into the vortex and you won't have to stir them--which can be very exciting if you hit the blades with your spoon!
When all the leaves are incorporated, blend on a higher speed until relatively smooth.
Turn off the blender and stir in the Parmesan cheese by hand. I use Kraft or one of the off-brands. Parmigiano Reggiano is great stuff, but it's wasted in pesto. It's too expensive and the flavor is too subtle--but that's only my opinion.
Blend it a few seconds more. It will be about the consistency of oatmeal. Transfer it to another container that has a tight-fitting lid. I always use cottage cheese cartons. The standard size will hold two batches. The smaller size works well for one batch.
When the container is full, pour a little more olive oil on the top to seal it. Pesto oxidizes very quickly when exposed to air. It's still good, it just turns a darker shade of green.
Because I make so much of it, I rarely use pesto right after I've made it. It always goes in the deep freeze until I use up the current batch. I've kept it in that freezer for a couple of years and it's still good. Sometimes the pesto gets moldy in the fridge if you don't use it very often. No worries. Just scrape off the mold and keep using it unless the mold freaks you out. It hasn't killed me yet. I think the mold has to do more with the condition of the basil when you pick it. The earlier in the season, the better. Seems like I have more issues with mold if I wait until late summer. The pesto I made two years ago hasn't gotten moldy at all, and I've had it in the fridge for a couple of months.
Now that you've made your pesto, your efforts are about to be rewarded--but first, you have to clean the blender! Filling it about half full with water and then running it on a high speed with the lid on will get it fairly clean, but I recommend wiping it out with a piece of buttered toast first.
Belated perhaps, but heartfelt...
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MARY G!!!!