Basil and Pesto

What does one do with all that basil at the end of the growing season? Make basil pesto of course!

What does one do with all that basil at the end of the growing season? Make basil pesto of course!

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual herb that is easily grown in South Carolina. It flourishes in full to part-sun and in well-drained soil enriched with organic matter (pH range 6.0-6.5). Continually harvesting basil leaves throughout the growing season helps keep the plants producing until frost. However, if the basil grows faster than you can consume it, and you have already shared with friends, then pinch back the flower heads for late season harvest.

This summer, at the Home and Garden Information Center, the common garden grew gorgeous Thai and cinnamon basil plants. It was as simple as stepping out back to harvest a few leaves for livening up almost any recipe. The basil really thrived and by summer’s end, it became apparent there would be an abundance of basil to harvest before frost or lose it. After tossing around a few ideas, basil pesto seemed to be a terrific solution to the dilemma.

Making pesto from fresh herbs is about as simple as it gets – minimal chopping, no cooking, and it freezes beautifully! Probably the most labor-intensive part of the preparation is cleaning the basil leaves. Here is what we did.

Basil plants were harvested, rinsed, and allowed to drain of excess water outdoors. The plants were then moved to a sanitized kitchen area. Healthy leaves were cut or pinched from stems and triple washed to remove any remaining soil. Once free of debris, the leaves where placed in a strainer for a few minutes for a final drain. A lettuce spinner could be used alternatively for straining. The leaves were then laid out in a single layer to remove remaining excess moisture. Paper towels placed beneath the basil while lightly patting the leaves dry works well. In our case with the abundance of basil, laundered kitchen towels in layers were used to absorb moisture.

Harvested basil plants from the common garden.

Harvested basil plants from the common garden.

Pinching healthy basil leaves from stems.

Pinching healthy basil leaves from stems.

Fresh basil!

Fresh basil!

Sanitizing basil with a triple rinse and drain.

Sanitizing basil with a triple rinse and drain.

Straining removes moisture from basil leaves.

Straining removes moisture from basil leaves.

Basil can be arranged in a single layer on paper towels or cloth towels for further removal of moisture.

Basil can be arranged in a single layer on paper towels or cloth towels for further removal of moisture.

Towels can be layered if there is an abundance of basil.

Towels can be layered if there is an abundance of basil.

Portions of basil leaves were coarse chopped with garlic and pine nuts in a food processor. Olive oil was then slowly poured through the processor lid while pulsing. Lastly, grated Parmesan cheese was added to the mixture, and we gave it a quick couple of pulses to finish. That’s it! Done!!

Pesto requires minimal ingredients: basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.

Pesto requires minimal ingredients: basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese.

Basil, garlic, and pine nuts are initially coarse chopped in a food processor.

Basil, garlic, and pine nuts are initially coarse chopped in a food processor.

Olive oil is then added to the course chopped mixture.

Olive oil is then added to the course chopped mixture.

Parmesan cheese is added to the mix before adding the olive oil or after.

Parmesan cheese is added to the mix before adding the olive oil or after.

A few final pulses of the food processor blends all the ingredients into a nicely textured sauce.

Processed basil pesto can be used immediately. For later use, it can be frozen by spooning into molds, ice cube trays, or freezer bags as single use servings. Pesto should maintain good quality when frozen for up to six months. Defrost in the refrigerator.

Finished pesto can be easily frozen in plastic molds or containers.

Finished pesto can be easily frozen in plastic molds or containers.

Use ice trays as a mold for freezing single servings of pesto.

Use ice trays as a mold for freezing single servings of pesto.

Pesto cubes are easily released from molds for storage or consumption. Thaw in refrigerator prior to use.

Pesto cubes are easily released from molds for storage or consumption. Thaw in refrigerator prior to use.

Basil Pesto
Simply Recipes written by Elise Bauer. https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/fresh_basil_pesto/

Ingredients:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (can substitute half the basil leaves with baby spinach)
1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (about 2 ounces)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts (can substitute with chopped walnuts)
3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste (optional)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste (optional)

Method:

  1. Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times.
  2. Add the garlic and Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese, then pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
  3. While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help to emulsify the oil and keep it from separating. Occasionally, stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor.
  4. Stir in salt and freshly ground black pepper, add more to taste (optional).

What to do with that pesto? It’s great as a sauce for pizza, pasta, or vegetables, as well as a topping for chicken or on a turkey sandwich.

More information on cultivation, care, and harvesting of basil is available at HGIC 1327, Basil.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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