When summer comes, basil is literally the only thing I want. I want it every day in every way. And I hate to be obvious, but... PESTO. There are three preparations that I come back to time and time again with basil and you'll see them all in the coming weeks, but since we went to Pesto Fest, I think it's important that you know how to make pesto. It's really a transformative thing to know how to make. It can make any dish you want to serve better. Eggs? Add pesto. Quiche? Add pesto. Steamed veggies? Add pesto. Potatoes? Add pesto. Pasta? You better add pesto. Life is good when pesto is around.
Pesto is so simple, it's stupid. Oh yeah. Basil or other leafy herb. Parmesan cheese. Olive oil. Garlic, always. Nuts if you like. I rarely do. Season it. Love it. (Oh, by the way, you can freeze pesto) (Oh, by the way, kids love it)
This isn't so much a recipe as a method- I never measure when I make pesto because I like to just taste it as I go. If it tastes too salty, I add more basil or more olive oil. If it tastes too oily, I add more basil. If it's too garlicky, add more of everything. Be easy on the salt because the cheese will impart a salty flavor. Two bunches of basil will usually make about a cup of pesto.
2 bunches basil (pick the leaves from the stems)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt & black pepper
grated Parmesan cheese
pine nuts/raw almonds (optional)
red pepper flakes (optional)
In the bowl of a food processor or the cup of an immersion blender (this is my tool of choice), add basil leaves and a clove of garlic. Add a couple tablespoons of parmesan cheese, nuts (optional) and a pinch of salt and pepper. As you drizzle in olive oil, begin blending. When it becomes saucy, stop adding olive oil and taste it. This is where you make decisions about what you want your pesto to taste like. I almost always have to taste mine 3-4 times before I settle. I occasionally like to add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Trust your palette and make something beautiful.
Pesto Pasta with Zucchini and Chickpeas
serves 4 - this is really versatile - I like the chickpeas for the creamy texture (plus they're cheap), but you could totally use another protein like chicken. If you've got some tomatoes, they would also make a lovely addition.
1 lb. spaghetti
2 cups grated zucchini (about 2 medium)
1 15 oz. can chickpeas/garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 garlic clove
1 Tbsp. olive oil
basil pesto (from above), about 1/4 cup
1. In a small skillet, heat olive oil and garlic over medium-low heat. Add chickpeas and let crisp, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.
2. Boil water and cook your pasta to al dente (cook it about a minute less than the directions say and taste it before you drain it).
3. When pasta is done, drain and immediately toss with the grated zucchini (a tongs is great for this). Add pesto a tablespoon at a time, tossing in between. When chickpeas are nicely golden brown, pour them on top of the pasta. Serve with extra parmesan cheese if you like.