Considering I am what can best be described as an ‘amateur’ gardener, my budding garden can be described as 90% guess work and 10% ‘I’ll water it some more just in case.’ What that basically means is that I spend a lot of time planting things that I think might be fun to have and then scratching my head as I watch the seedlings wither away. I think that there is something to be said for sheer cluelessness however, because I don’t have any idea of what plants are supposedly hard or easy to grow and instead I just plant at random.

Basil however, I know is hard to grow. I can hear people protesting that already and trust me I’ve been told that you can grow basil inside or outside and if you can’t grow anything else you can grow basil.

Not me.

I’ve been known to buy flourishing plants of basil and within days watch them shrivel and brown, mulishly refusing to grow and silently judging me and my ineptitude. So needless to say when this year’s crop went in courtesy of my father, I stayed far away from them. I hesitated to even look in their direction, preferring to make him water them so he couldn’t accuse me of inflicting my witchmagic on the poor plants.

And wouldn’t you know it – the man can grow some basil.

In fact he grew so much basil that we’ve been frantically trying to use the bulk of it before it all goes to seed. There’s only so many caprese salads, pizzas, lasagnes and sorbets (more on that later) that you can make before you need to pull out the big guns.

Pesto.

The quickest way I know to make an over-abundance of basil go away… into my mouth, is to make a big jar of pesto. The funny thing about pesto is whenever we are out, I never miss it, but the moment I have a jar of freshly made pesto in the fridge – suddenly everything would be better with a little of that magical green spread thickly over top of it. Asparagus? Mmm asparagus dipped in pesto. Chicken? Roasted chicken seasoned under the skin with pesto thanks. Empty Spoon? Fill with pesto, insert into mouth.

The best thing about pesto is how insanely easy it is to make.

Grab yourself some basil, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic, throw in a blender and season with good quality olive oil, salt and pepper. I personally try to go quite heavy on the basil and parmesan, and a bit lighter on the parmesan and garlic but you can mix them to whatever proportions taste the best to you. My dad thinks it is heresy to even consider squeezing lemon into that heavenly, fragrant mixture – while I personally think that the bite of the lemon cuts through the sometimes overwhelming richness of cheese and fatty nuts. Blend it until you are happy with it, again some people prefer it to be nearly paste like, but I prefer a little texture in mine.

I used two bulbs of garlic (yes, bulbs) because my little garlics are home grown and are curiously sweet and mild… as well as having grown as giant single bulbs instead of sectioned cloves, so even with that much garlic you won’t be knocked over the head with the punch of raw garlic. If you don’t like the taste of raw garlic you can use pre-minced, but you’ll lose some of the bright, vividness of the flavour that way. It’s really worth it to grow your own garlic, the flavour when fresh is completely different from buyign the dried bulbs from the supermarket; it’s sweet and sticky and mild, in a word amazing. And literally all it takes is sticking an old garlic clove that’s been sprouting in the back of your fridge (we’ve all been there, no judgement!) into some dirt and occasionally watering and throwing wistful glances in its direction. Garlic is the queen of unneedy planting.

Just like that! Literally minutes after starting, you’re done. There has got to be no easier recipe than this, in fact I would barely count this as cooking, more just blending and then putting in a jar. In my mind cooking should take longer than three minutes. In other words the time versus reward ratio for this recipe is completely off the hook. For something that takes almost no time at all, you have enough pesto to last for weeks as well as a big jar of self-satisfaction smiling back at you from the fridge every time you open it.

“Hi! You made me! Ready for some deliciousness?”

Pesto is a friendly food.

Traditional Genovese Pesto.

  • 2 cups very tightly packed basil leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 8 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil – use the best quality possible.
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • coarse sea salt
  • pepper

Rinse the basil if home grown (we don’t want bugs in the mixture) and very gently so as not to bruise the leaves, pat dry. Place the leaves in a food processer with the pine nuts, garlic and a pinch of salt. Blend just a little at first, you don’t want to over-blend it beyond all recognition. Add the cheese and half of the olive oil and blend once more. If not saucelike enough in consistency add more of the olive oil. By this point it becomes a matter of taste testing to get it to where you like it. Season to taste and add the lemon juice if you like. Season conservatively because the flavours will develop over time.

Transfer mixture to a large bowl or jar and cover with the remaining olive oil. If not keeping in a jar make sure to tightly cover with plastic wrap or similar. This extra layer of oil will help keep the pesto fresh for longer without it turning black and going bad.

Pesto is best used the same day but keeps, its surface covered with a thin layer of olive oil and tightly covered, chilled, for 3 days.

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