Beyond Basil Pesto

Monthly Feature JUNE 2014

 

Fresh Basil in the garden.
Fresh Basil in the garden.

Pesto made with fresh basil leaves is an easy and quick way to preserve the summery goodness of basil. Frozen, it keeps for months and has so many uses. In our household, fast food is cooking some pasta and tossing it with thawed basil pesto, leftover veggies- especially roasted or grilled- and adding a green salad. Voila! Supper!

If you like using pesto to mix with pasta, to top bruchetta, add to vinaigrette salad dressings or to flavor grilled or roasted vegetables, expand your choices by making pesto with other herbs, nuts, seeds and even leafy greens. Try different combinations such as basil with parsley, parsley with spinach, cilantro with parsley, lemon basil alone or mixed with standard basil or parsley… get the idea?

You can add different oils, nuts, seeds and cheese to alter the flavor to your liking.

You don’t absolutely need an electric food processor or blender to make pesto, but it really speeds up the process. Any of the following recipes can be made with a morter and pestle. And, a food processor with its wider, shallower bowl works more easily than a blender. Either will do, though. With a blender, you just have to stop and push the food back onto the blades more often than with a food processor. Just be sure the blades have stopped turning before you stick a scraper or spoon into the jar.

Don’t do what I did one time…. and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn’t have splinters in the pesto. Plus I had to wipe up oily basil from the counter, floor and other surrounding surfaces. I reiterate…. wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!! 

Any of the tradtional dairy cheeses in the following recipes can be replaced with vegan varieties, just so long as the cheese is hard enough to be grated. Seeds such as sunflower or pumpkin can be substituted for the nuts. Roasting the seeds or nuts before use will bring out their flavor.

To roast raw seeds or nuts, spread them on a cookie sheet and place in a 350 deg. oven for 10 minutes, stirring and checking frequently to avoid over toasting. Or, place the seeds or nuts in a dry fying pan, I use cast iron, on a hot burner and stir around until you can smell aroma from the oils released from the the seeds or nuts. Do not over brown. Roasted nuts and seeds can be stored in an air-tight container or frozen.

You can make fresh pesto every time you need it, but it’s very easy to make a bigger batch when the basil or other herbs and greens are at their peak.

Pesto freezes wonderfully. I like to freeze it in ice cube trays overnight then transfer the cubes to a big plastic freezer bag. One cube is one serving of pesto to mix with pasta.

Be sure to mark the bag with the type of pesto inside. Parsley, basil, cilantro, spinach and arugula can all look alike after they’re frozen!

Some people leave the cheese out when freezing pesto and mix it in after the pesto is thawed. I’ve never done that. My pesto is ready to go when it’s thawed. It tastes great and the texture and color is perfect!Following are some recipes to get you started, along with info and ideas for uses of pesto, storing and freezing. Continue reading “Beyond Basil Pesto”

Lemon-y Herbs for Summer

Monthly Feature APRIL 2014

Last month I wrote about Lemongrass, so this month I thought I’d continue with the lemon theme and discuss a few other lemony herbs. Lemon flavored herbs are great for summer: they make light and refreshing iced tea, add bright notes to grilled fish and seafood and combine well with salads.

Here are my favorites!

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citrodora

Lemon Verbena Flowers

A perennial shrub from 3 to 6 feet tall, Lemon Verbena is also known as Lemon Beebrush due to its attraction to bees when in flower.

The leaves will freeze and fall off the plant at 32 deg. F, but the wood is said to be hardy to -10 deg. F. Since I don’t live where it gets that cold, I have no experience with such low temperatures. I do know, my Lemon Verbena comes back every Spring on the old wood. So, if yours freezes, do not prune the woody stems all the way down. Prune for shape, if you like, but know new leaves will soon populate the old, woody stems.
In containers, I’ve found the smaller woody stems to also freeze, but new growth reliably comes from the root system.

Lemon Verbena can be a bit of a lanky, leggy grower and a bit of Spring pruning can help shape the plant. Left on its own, it’s not the most attractive plant in the herb garden. The flavor of Lemon Verbena, however, easily makes up for any lack of physical beauty.

In the garden in the Southern US, give Lemon Verbena some afternoon shade and it’ll be very happy, providing you with lots of leaves for tea and cooking. If you have a bee garden, Lemon Verbena is a good addition. The flowers are very attractive to our little pollinating friends. It makes sprays of white to pinkish flowers. Very attractive in arrangements, too.

I like to refer to Lemon Verbena as The Queen of Lemon Herbs! It’s flavor and scent is most like a real lemon, giving it the ability to make terrific tea, hot or iced. Used in cakes and cookies, it adds a distinct lemon flavor.

Here’s a recipe I found using Lemon Verbena in a muffin recipe with another summer favorite, zucchini:

Lemon Verbena and Nut Muffins

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup packed shredded zucchini – do not drain
  • 12 lemon verbena leaves, sliced finely

Into a large bowl, put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, lemon peel, cinnamon and nuts.
In another bowl, beat the eggs with a fork, beating in the milk and the oil.
Add to the flour mix and stir well.
Then add the zucchini and lemon verbena and stir all together.
Grease mini-muffin tins and then fill 3/4 full.
Bake at 400 deg. F for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the tins.
Test with toothpick.

Glaze: juice the 2 lemons from above and add enough confectioners sugar to make a thin glaze. While the muffins are still hot, dip the tops in the glaze and set on wire rack to drain.

Recipe from In the Kitchen at Shale Hill Farm Continue reading “Lemon-y Herbs for Summer”

Easy Pesto

 

  • 2 cups clean basil leaves (you can use all one variety or mixed varieties, according to your taste)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup nuts. Pinenuts are traditional, but I use pecans because they grow here on our farm.
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romano, or a blend.
  • 5-8 cloves of garlic, according to your taste
  • Approximately 1/2 cup olive or other vegetable oil. This amount can vary depending on how much cheese and nuts you put in.

 

Food Processor:
Add all ingredients and process until you have a smooth, well-mixed pesto. The consistency should be similar to that of mayonnaise.

Blender:
This is a little more work than using a food processor, but makes an equally delicious pesto.
Place about a quarter of the basil leaves in the jar adding 1/2 cup oil, the nuts and cheese. Blend (I use the puree setting or high setting.)
You’ll need a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to push the mixture down onto the blades fairly often. —Don’t do what I did one time…. and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn’t have splinters in the pesto.

In other words…. wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!!

After you have that first mix pretty well blended and the nuts are well ground, just keep adding the basil leaves about a handful at time until all the leaves are used up. If the mix is too thick, add a little oil to thin it down.
It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. In fact, I like the pesto a little coarse so I can see the leaves, but the nuts should be well ground.

To preserve the pesto, I fill ice cube trays with the mixture and freeze it over night. The next day I remove the pesto cubes and store them in a plastic bag or tub in the freezer. One cube is one serving.

Pesto can be made with other leafy green herbs. Parsley mixed with basil is tasty. Cilantro and parsley is very good, too, especially with chicken enchiladas or even Indian food like curry.