Monday, August 23, 2010

Easy and Declicious Pesto - Italian Style

Harvesting time is here and I have an overwhelming abundance of basil!This awesome herb is easily one of my favorites I always grow a healthy amount of it each year. The only problem I have with basil is it can't be dried. I know you see the dried stuff at the grocery store, but in reality basil is one herb that is much, much better fresh. Such a pity. So how do I preserve my basil harvest for use in the winter? I either freeze it by itself (chop it and mix it with either olive oil or water) or I make some large batches of pesto.

Pesto can be super easy to make, but I do think it's helpful to have a good recipe for it. I've tried numerous recipes, including making my own and have had plenty of disappointments in the process. Most basil pestos use the same ingredients; basil, olive oil, garlic, salt and parmesan cheese. However the proportion of each ingredient can make a real difference in your end flavor.

Below I've shared with you my favorite pesto recipe. It's from the fabulous cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan (recipe is on page 176). If you love Italian food, this is a wonderful cookbook to have on your shelf. She shares authentic Italian recipes, not the America Italian dishes we've become accustomed to in the US. There hasn't been a recipe I've tried in this cookbook that I haven't loved.

Ideally for the best flavor and most authentic Italian style pesto, you'd make this recipe with a mortar and pestle, but most of us don't have the time or the tools to do this, so instead I used my food processor.

What You'll Need: for 6 servings
2 cups tightly packed fresh basis leaves - washed and thoroughly dry
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp. pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
sea salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
2 tbsp. freshly grated romano cheese
3 tbsp. softened, room temperature butter

Getting Started:
1.  Place basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and a large pinch of salt in your food processor. Process until you have a creamy, uniformed consistency.

2. Transfer basil mixture to a medium size bowl and by hand, mix in your parmigiano-reggiano and romano cheeses. Marcella writes, "It is worth the slight effort to do it by hand to obtain the notably superior texture it produces."

3. Last step is to mix in the softened butter.

Like many, my favorite way to enjoy pesto is on pasta with shrimp. For this recipe you'd use about 1 1/2 pounds of pasta and as much shrimp as you want. I like around 2 lbs. If you aren't accustomed to cooking shrimp, I think the biggest mistake people make is over cooking it. Smaller shrimp only take about 2 minutes to cook, so have your pasta and pesto ready before cooking them. For this recipe, I heated in my cast iron skillet a couple tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. I tossed in my shelled and deveined shrimp and cooked them on one side until they began to turn pink about half way up the sides. I flipped them over and cooked then cooked them until they were all pink. This only took about another minute. If you overcook shrimp, you end up with a rubbery texture, which is not so enjoyable.

Toss you shrimp in with your hot pasta and pesto and enjoy! 

Oh, one note, if you are freezing your pesto you don't want to add your butter or cheese until you thaw it and are ready to eat it, so just do step one. I like to freeze my pesto in ice cube trays, then once frozen, transfer it to freezer storage bags. 

Two for Tuesday Recipe Blog Hopl at A Moderate Life


  1. Oh, I feel the same way. I do usually just throw it in w/ olive oil and process, then freeze it in ice cube trays. i should start making pesto, though as well...cuz we do love it! This one sounds delicious and I love it tossed w/ the shrimp and pasta...very nice. Thank you for sharing it w/ Two for tuesdays this week =)

  2. Hi Therese! I am so sad that I didn't get a good crop of basil this year! I was able to maintain one bush basil so hopefully I will get enough to make some of this-I made some arugula pesto that was very good! I love your photos they are so fresh and lovely! Thanks so much for posting on the two for tuesday recipe blog hop! :) Alex@amoderatelife

  3. Yum, I love arugula, but haven't seen it much this year. Next time I'm at the farmers market I might have to scout extra hard so I can make an arugula pesto too! How do you use yours?

  4. You're so right, dried basil is nearly useless, certainly flavorless, much better to have aromatic fresh leaves while you can. Thank you for sharing your recipe with Two for Tuesday.

  5. Ah, pesto - a taste of summer in the dead of winter - what a great idea! Thanks for linking this to Two for Tuesdays!

  6. I also love traditional pesto. Love your recipe with shrimp. The pink and green colors are so pretty.


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