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Recipe: Homemade Basil Pesto

One of my local farms (Nourse Farms in Westborough, MA), where my family has a CSA share, had some beautiful fresh basil when I stopped by for this weeks’ produce. So I decided it was time to put up a batch of homemade pesto in the freezer for use later in the year. This is not really a complex recipe, but there are as many different pesto recipes as there are people making it. This is my pretty traditional take, with pine nuts.


For each large bunch of basil (about 2 cups of packed leaves)

  • 3 to 4 cloves of garlic (leave skin on — it will be pan roasted)
  • 1/4 C pine nuts (we will also toast these)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • approx. 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil (ask someone at Salumeria Italiana in Boston — they’ll steer you towards something good)
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (no, the pre-grated stuff in the green can/jar doesn’t count) get a nice aged piece and grate it using a microplane grater.
  • black pepper to taste


Separate the basil leaves from the stems. Wash thoroughly, because no one likes gritty pesto! I sometimes crumble the leaves a bit, but this is purely an optional step. Some people crush them with a rolling pin or beat them with a meat tenderizer. I’m not sure that really does any good.

Start a heavy pan on medium heat. Do not use non-stick for this part. Heating a non-stick pan without enough food in it to absorb the heat and keep the surface below ~400 degrees F can be dangerous, especially if you have pet birds in the house. (Don’t believe it, see this, this, or this.)

When the pan is warm, dump in the pine nuts. Give them a shake/stir every minute or so and keep an eye on them to prevent burning. Toast them until they are nice golden. Be careful though, they go from golden brown and delicious (GBD) to burnt in a matter of seconds. Remove them from the pan to cool.

After the nuts are toasted, dump in the garlic, with the husk still on. I usually add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, but this can also be done dry. Roast the garlic for 5 to 7 minutes until it too is GBD. Let it cool when done and then remove the paper.

Add the garlic, pine nuts, and basil leaves to a food processor. Add the salt. Pulse while occasionally stopping to scrape the walls down until the leaves are coarsely chopped. Then begin to drizzle in the oil while continue to run the food processor. Once the oil is incorporated, fold in the grated cheese and add additional salt and pepper to taste.


Pesto freezes very well and will keep for several months. I usually save it in 1/2 cup reusable containers, like these Gladware ones. Fill each container 3/4 full, then pack the pesto down completely by banging the container gently on the counter. Then I pour a couple ounces of olive oil over the top to seal the pesto from the air. If put into the freezer quickly, this additional layer of oil solidifies on top and prevents the pesto from contacting the air, keeping it greener and fresher than pesto left open.

When I want a taste of summer during the long New England winter, I simply break out one of these little frozen bundles and add it to some pasta. It can be defrosted in the microwave, and a fresh meal is only a few minutes away at any time.

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