The Milkweed Diaries

Monday, September 22, 2008

Pesto Extravaganza

Saturday afternoon we harvested all of the remaining basil in the garden and piled it in a huge aromatic heap in the yard. From this
luxurious pile of spicy green we made pesto over the next 36 hours or so...lots and lots of pesto.

Above: Love in the basil pile

At left: MT and Jonathan with the goods

We grew Genovese basil, the classic pesto variety. This is the third year we've had a big basil-harvesting and pesto-making event at Fall Equinox, which is also birthday season for both me and Christopher.

This year, MT and Jonathan and Christopher and I harvested and picked through all of the leaves, gradually filling and refilling a big plastic tub with basil.

At left: Picking leaves off of the stems, the most time-consuming and tedious part of the process, best performed with friends.

After we had enough leaves picked to begin washing and turning them into pesto, there was some enthusiastic garlic smashing (see below) followed by hours of chopping and blending in the food processor (thanks to Evaa and CP for stepping in to take the food processor controls when I was flagging).

At some point during the marathon of pesto production line activities, friends began to trickle in for birthday celebrations. Eventually, there was a sizable crowd, and good food (featuring pesto, of course) was enjoyed all round.

Shane brought an amazing pie made from wild berries and some fabulous mead from various fruits and honey from her bees, Paul and Jude contributed surprisingly delicious stewed tomatoes and green beans from their garden, Jordana made a downright delicious beet salad, and Dana brought paw paws and made mint chocolate chip ice cream on site with "milk squeezed from the cow's teat just yesterday morning" and
chocolate chips she claimed to have grown herself.

April & Mike contributed the entertainment in the form of 2-month old Nathaniel, who was much admired by all.

And we ate pasta with potatoes, peppers, and chard and copious amounts of ultra-fresh pesto.

Above: Smashing and peeling homegrown garlic

Here's the basic recipe (no measurements, sorry!) for classic pesto for freezing or eating fresh. We used sunflower seeds and no cheese -- the budget version.

  • Basil (Italian large-leaf or Genovese are the best varieties for pesto-making)
  • High quality olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Lots of fresh garlic, smashed and peeled
  • Sunflower seeds, walnuts, or pine nuts
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • A little bit of fresh parsley & thyme (optional)
  • Asiago or parmesan cheese, coarsely grated (optional)
Pulverize in a food processor, or if you are really old-school, with a mortar and pestle. Adjust proportions according to your taste (it is almost impossible to combine these ingredients in a way that is not pleasurable). Eat fresh or freeze!

We ended up with quarts and quarts of pesto -- we'll never know exactly how much because we ate so much right away and sent a whole lot home with friends.

There is nothing in the world like classic basil pesto. Besides its fabulous taste and smell, there's something about the green, green, savory, spicy, burst of flavor and color that just seems to capture the life-force of summer in a jar.

Basil is packed with chlorophyll, the magical substance that changes sunlight into plant energy, and also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and Vitamins A, D, and B2. Google turns up some interesting studies of the nutritional and medicinal properties of basil, for example: "Recently, basil was shown to rank highest among spices and herbal crops for xanthophyll carotenoids, which are associated with decreased risks of cancer and age-related eye diseases." (Read more here.)

And it tastes so good and is so beautiful.

So all of our basil is now all converted into pesto, packed into jars and various other containers, and stored for later eating. It's quite satisfying to open up the freezer and see all of that bright green, sunny summer juju, packed in for winter.

Happy Equinox!


ashley english said...

Basil Bliss! Is there anything more exquisite, and fragrant?!

Jordana said...

Hooray! My first mention in the Milkweed Diaries! I had a fabulous time at the Pestivities. My favorite part was the stroll down to the river. We ate pesto on bowtie pasta with steamed kale and Adam gave you major props. I never made it into the hot tub, so I'll have to come back soon. Love you!

Anonymous said...

do i see a yurt in the background of one of your pictures?! i'd love to see a post on that sometime. i would love a yurt as our guest house.
we've also been busy making tons of pesto and bringing lots of basil to work. dianne

Heather said...


This Basil is amazing.

I MUST grow some next year...but somehow I have always thought it hard so I am afraid to try.
I'm such a dope.

I am bookmarking you and coming back later to peruse :)

Milkweed said...

Thanks Ashley and Jordana!

Dianne, the yurt is actually a YOME! A post is in the works - thanks for the request.

And I've never grown basil in your region, Heather, but it is really, really easy. And of course totally satisfying! I would be happy to be on your basil growing support team.

Heather said...

oh my
I just noticed that my blog is on your sidebar.
I think you are my first!
Thank you!!

Milkweed said...

Hurrah! I love your blog too...lovely to connect!