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Tips for Making Homemade Pesto

basil

The Aaron Family has been in Arizona for a little over a year and I FINALLY feel like we’re getting the hang of things.  I now know that in the desert  my car battery and tires wear out three times faster, that my hair requires twice as much conditioner and that the lovely assemblage of wool peacoats, nubby scarves and leather driving gloves in my closet will probably be considered “retro” before I get to wear them again.  I did move here from an honest to goodness temperate rainforest, after all.  Moving to the desert was like scooting off to another planet.

I feel that our family has acclimated pretty well, all things considered.  The one area that I’m still feeling like a bit of a novice is in the garden.  You see, I was an avid gardener of both the edible and pretty flower varieties.  I was so proud of my green thumb that I used it to seduce my future husband! The first meal I made for Handsome Husband was something I threw together and dubbed “Summer Scampi”, involving shrimp, goat cheese and a bevy of delights from my backyard garden: yellow and red heirloom tomatoes, bi-color corn, baby spinach, basil and thyme.  He’s fond of telling people that “Summer Scampi” is why he fell in love with me. So, yeah–that whole gardening thing was working out pretty well.

Fast forward to our Arizona move in which my green thumb has turned woefully black. I mean, I really can’t get it right!  I KILL EVERYTHING.

Ok, not everything.  The truth is that the only thing really thriving in my garden are herbs.  My oregano is spilling out of its pot and dripping onto the patio!  My thyme is a stout woody-stemmed wonder!  My chocolate mint is like a wild animal!  My basil.  MY BASIL.  It’s astounding, really.  My basil is kind of amazing.

So, obviously, one of the finest things you can do with a large quantity of basil is to make pesto.  Ina Garten, the beloved Barefoot Contessa, has a classic, solid pesto recipe here.

It’s great to have a go-to pesto recipe on hand, but here’s a few pointers and tweaks from my kitchen:

pesto* If you’re making a large batch of pesto, try freezing it in ice cube trays overnight, then transferring the pesto cubes to a freezer-friendly container.  When you need a quick dinner, you can easily grab a handful of cubes to stir into hot pasta–much quicker and easier than defrosting a whole batch, plus you only thaw what you need.

*Pesto is traditionally made with pine nuts.  Truthfully, I rarely use pine nuts in my pestos.  They tend to be on the pricy side and I don’t use them enough to keep them in the pantry.  I use whatever nuts I have around; typically pecans or walnuts.  I’ve noticed that when Handsome Husband goes nuts (pun intended) over my pesto, it’s because I’ve used pecans. (And if you have time to toast the pecans first, your family will think you hung the moon.)

*Aside from using pesto as a pasta sauce, we use it on homemade pizzas (pear, gorgonzola, walnut and pesto pizza, to be exact!),  stir it into homemade hummus, and  frequently toss it in with chicken to make the BEST chicken caesar dinner salads ever.  It’s so versatile and gives everything a pop of summer.

*Basil is not the only herb with which you can make a pesto–any tender herb works well! My favorite?  Parsley pesto.  You have not LIVED until you’ve tried it; lemony, crisp and surprisingly aromatic.  Try replacing the dressing of your favorite pasta salad with parsley pesto–it’s yummiest when chilled!

How does your garden grow?

What are your favorite things to do with your backyard bounty?

Oh, and if you have any gardening advice (or encouragement), please share it with me and the SMB readers!

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