How I ended up in Italy 3 weeks after graduating from high school is a long story. The biggest part probably being the amazingly gracious family friends that agreed to host this lost girl who thought she would find herself amongst the cobblestoned streets and olive oil-scented air. While the rest of my graduating class was living up the last summer of teenage “freedom” before starting college, I was working as a nanny for an Italian family in a small riverfront town. While the mom of the family I worked for was not the typical Italian mama (no flour-dusted embrace, tomato-stained apron, hands waving “Mangia! Mangia!” (Eat!) ), the upstairs neighbor was. She made homemade gnocchi and pesto and tomato sauce, and brought it all down for the blonde American to taste.
I was probably the only person on earth, in Italy, who did not like olives, prosciutto, and pesto. All that homemade green golden goodness just upstairs from me–and I took one taste of pesto and thought it was…thick. I’m not sure how else to describe it! It was a totally new flavor, and I simply did not like it. Silly American.
My palate has grown up since that summer oh so many years ago, and I have to say pesto is now one of my most favorite ways to dress up any meal. Seriously. It’s like the little black dress of condiments…Little green dress. You thought salmon wrapped in puff pastry was good? Try spreading some pesto on the salmon before wrapping it up, and you can now charge your guests $10 more per plate. Does your Minestrone soup need some zip? Add a spoonful of pesto and your family will be shouting “Wow!” with glee.
Traditional basil pesto originated from Northern Italy–just basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and a little parmesan cheese all blended up. There are so many variations of a pesto–I’m sure you could make and eat a different type every night for a year! Any combination of vegetables, herbs, nuts, and other flavorings will blend up a fantastic sauce–kale, roasted red pepper, and sunflower seeds; parsley, sage, and walnuts; arugula, spinach, and almonds–endless little green dresses at your fingertips!
A couple of years ago I planted about 6 little basil sprouts in my garden. They very quickly turned into basil trees. Full-blown TREES! I used as much as I could over the summer, and in the fall invited a couple friends over for a pesto-making party. We chopped down those trees and blended batch after batch after batch of fresh basil pesto. I think I froze at least 6-10 bags of frozen, cubed fresh basil pesto. It’s a little embarrassing to say that it’s taken me two years to get down to my last bag of pesto cubes. I know they say 6 months tops in the deep freeze, but I’ve had this pesto since the fall of 2013–and no way I’m going to throw out this green golden goodness! Still tastes great…even in the fall of 2015.
CLASSIC BASIL PESTO
Adding a handful of fresh spinach or parsley leaves to the mix will ensure your pesto will retain its deliciously bright green hue
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves (no stems), or fresh baby spinach leaves
- 1 tablespoon pine nuts
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon Asiago or Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- In a blender or food processor, combine the first three ingredients and pulse until combined. Add the next three ingredients and pulse again to mix. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until a smooth sauce forms.
- Use right away, or keep in the refrigerator in an air-tight container and use within one week of making. Alternatively, you can freeze in cubes (put a drop or two of olive oil on top) and keep in deep freeze up to six months.