Now that summer is well and truly over and autumn is here, it is time for a final harvest of my basil plants. They are already starting to feel the cold nights, and their discomfort shows in the leaves. I had great intentions for my basil plants this summer, but unfortunately things got so busy and I wasn’t able to make as much basil pesto as I’d planned. I absolutely love homemade basil pesto (as do the rest of the family!), not just for the flavour, but because it freezes really well; it’s a way of getting healthy greens and garlic into the kids in such a way that they’re begging for more; and it’s the key ingredient in an instant meal that’s easier and quicker to organise than takeaways: spaghetti aglio e olio. Well, that’s what I call it; no doubt what I do is not true to the traditional recipe, but it’s close and the name is just so fun to say!
You can usually choose from a selection of basil pesto brands at the supermarket these days, but I prefer to make it fresh at home. When you get used to eating fresh food, you really become aware of how stale the store-bought versions are. Also, I could only ever find one brand that was preservative-free, and it was so expensive! Homemade is so much more affordable, but also you eliminate a lot of single-use plastic packaging.
To make one cup of pesto, I pick one full cup of basil leaves, and put them in my blender.
Then I smush (with the flat of a big knife), peel, chop finely, and add two cloves of garlic.
Pour half a cup of extra-virgin olive oil over the leaves and garlic, and add ¼ cup of pine nuts.
Finally, I grate and add 60g parmesan cheese. I add ground rock salt (sea salt is good too) to suit my taste buds. Everything gets whizzed together in the blender, with one or two spatula sweeps round the sides. The resulting delicious pesto fills about 2 – 2½ small baby food jars, so I usually double the recipe when I make it. Covering the pesto with a layer of olive oil prevents it from turning brownish on top, and keeps the flavour intact. I always store the pesto in little glass baby food jars and then freeze them. They thaw quickly, and it means we’re always eating fresh-tasting pesto. I have never had an issue with the glass jars cracking in the freezer, although a few times I have filled them too high and the lids have popped off as the contents froze and expanded. Now I am careful to fill them so that there is about a centimetre of expansion room in the jar.
The two ways we usually eat basil pesto is by making cheese toasties with pesto and grilled cheese, and by making spaghetti aglio e olio. I boil a pot of spaghetti, then drain it and drizzle with olive oil. When it’s cooled a little, I mix through a generous amount of basil pesto and serve with grated parmesan cheese on top. This is an absolute favourite meal for the little ones (they both love spaghetti) and my husband can’t get enough of it either. We love to eat it with fresh, pan-fried snapper from the markets. Yum, yum.