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August 12, 2008

Fresh herbs (Recipe: basil pesto)

Pesto

For six months of every year, my pantry spills out the kitchen door, down the front steps, and into the herb garden.

Ted and I share the garden with rabbits, deer, bees, beetles, and the turtles who come uphill from the wetlands two houses away, every year in late May, to lay their eggs next to the chives and tarragon.

Fresh herbs -- really fresh, harvested in the minutes before I cook with them -- have spoiled me for life.

First came basil, because we live in Rhode Island, the most Italian of all states, where a garden without basil would be unthinkable.

Basil

Then parsley, sage, and the rest of the song.

Parsley

Sage

This year, we added a few harder-to-find annuals and perennials: lime basil, lemon thyme, lemongrass, horseradish.

Lime basil

Lemon thyme

Lemongrass

Horseradish

We're spoiled. No doubt about it.

An unlimited supply of perky flat-leaf parsley, fragrant and crispy Genovese basil, and flavorful English thyme (my favorite herb of all) has changed the way I cook and the way I shop for produce at both grocery stores and farmers' markets. Though in some dishes dried herbs can take the place of fresh, I wouldn't think of making cilantro slaw, herb muffins, pasta with herbs and lemon, eggs baked in herb crepes, or rice salad with tuna, olives and herbs without fresh herbs.

You can store herbs in the refrigerator for a couple of days, if you don't have an herb garden. I dry and freeze my herbs during the summer to use during the winter months, when the offerings in the supermarket (even the upscale ones) are limp, flavorless and trucked in from someplace else. Ted made a drying screen from an old window frame and two sheets of screening material that sandwich the herbs and allow air to flow around them, so the herbs dry without getting moldy.

Now I shake my head and wonder... why didn't I grow herbs on my windowsill when I lived in an apartment for all those years?

Basil pesto

Here in Rhode Island, everyone makes pasta with pesto, but I like to add a dollop to vegetable soups, to bump up the flavor. Quick and easy, this recipe makes enough to sauce 1-1/2 lbs of pasta.

Ingredients

2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup fresh pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions

Place basil, nuts, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until chopped. With the machine running, add olive oil in a stream until desired consistency is achieved. Stir in the mayonnaise and *cheese. Serve right away, or cover in an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to three days.

To freeze, *omit the cheese. Portion the pesto into an ice cube tray. Freeze the tray, then pop out the cubes of pesto and store in a ziploc bag. When you're ready to use it, take as many cubes as you need. Let it defrost, and stir in some fresh grated parmesan cheese to taste.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Green herb risotto
Tzatziki
Brick-grilled chicken
Frittata with broccoli and garden herbs
Honey-roasted beets with orange and thyme

Comments

I've also got basil, thyme, parsley and rosemary growing outside, as well as a healthy crop of mint. When I lived in New Mexico, we had drying screens which my husband made. We used to collect Boletus mushrooms and dry them, then store them in large glass jars. I've never frozen dried herbs before - must give that one a try!

I just got me an herb garden. Very excited. I made pesto yesterday with my basil as well.

Thank you for the tip for freezing dried herbs. I will try that! I am also intrigued by the addition of mayo in the pesto sauce - does it add a nice sweetness?

I love seeing your herb garden! I'm glad the critters have left those along. I'm intrigued by the addition of mayo to pesto... I've never seen that before, but I sure like the idea! I'll have to try it will all my basil...

What a lovely herb garden you have! Lovely! All those herbs! Thanks for the link above. I want to learn to grow some herbs on my window sill. That would be awesome!

Paz

Is mayo instead of lemon juice?? Have you tried making pesto with a different basil??

I have very mixed results with my herb garden. The harsh Florida weather combined with my plant-related ineptitude does not yield a predictable outcome, lol. Your garden looks really nice though--I wish I had such a yield! My basil grows everywhere except where I put it so I have to go hunting for it.

I am definitely going to try freezing some of my basil this year. I used to just dry it and it turned out ok, this sounds MUCH better! Thanks for the tip and the new pesto recipe.

We do much of our herb gardening in containers. Some of it turns out beautifully, some of it not so well.

Two things we do not have growing this year are lime basil & horseradish plants. The lime basil sounds ideal, although I don't think I've run across it in our local nurseries... looks like I'll have to expand my list of go-to garden centers next season!

Lovely, calming photos... thanks for sharing a bit of your garden with us!

I'm feeling so envious! I moved from Oregon's Willamette Valley (aka - gardener's paradise) and my wonderful garden, to Central Oregon, where the growing season is nearly non-existent. So I'm going to start some herbs on my windowsill! Thanks for the reminder that indoors will work too!

Karen

I agree completely about fresh from the garden herbs. My herb garden outside the kitchen door was the first thing I planted when we moved to this house. Mayo in pesto? Sounds interestingly different.

Pesto is an absolute favorite of mine, Lydia. I love it in just about anything!
I grow herbs in the balcony of my apartment and it's been so useful! My sage died, but I am buying another one.

Mayo in pesto? Interesting... I've never heard of that addition.

Also, your herb garden sounds amazing! I live in a small apartment and I have a little basil plant on my fire escape, but that's the extent of my "garden." Can't wait to live somewhere with more space!

In our current apartment, we haven't bothered to plant any herbs in the yard. Fresh basil is the one thing that makes me regret that decision. Adding a dollop of pesto to soups sounds like a great idea. When I was telling a friend from Ecuador about a chimichurri sauce I make, he said his mother always kept chimichurri sauce handy to add to soups and stews.

Hubby and I love pesto. Thanks for this delicious recipe!

I wish I could grow a windowsill garden in my apartment but it's not possible. I miss my fresh herbs from home. I love the smell of just chopped basil. The pesto looks fantasic!

Our basil has been growing fast and furiously this year, so I'm going to be freezing some this weekend. Freezing your basil pesto sounds like a perfect idea.

Thanks for the pesto post. I've never used mayo in pesto before. I'll give it a try - I'm curious about what kind of flavor it brings.

Yum! What a pretty garden! And I've never tried mayo before in pesto, can't wait to give your recipe a try!

It's so convenient and, just, homey to walk outside and pick off fresh herbs to use with dinner. And much cheaper than buying them over and over at the store! I have a tiny apartment garden, but I love it.

I live in an inner-city area and have a tiny yard the size of a postage stamp. This year I bought basil for the first time and something kept eating it to the ground. I replaced it two times and after the third time I lost it I gave up.

Because we're in the city I know it wasn't rabbits eating it. So that leaves.... squirrels? rats? I still don't know.

I froze basil pesto for the first time last year and it worked so beautifully! In fact earlier this summer when the mere idea of fresh pesto was taunting me, I reached in the freezer and pulled out the last little bit. It was such a treasure to have on hand throughout the winter.

For the first time ever, I put my herbs straight into the vegetable garden and they're doing great out there! I'm curious if you have experience with lovage. It's been recommended to me, and I can't say that I have any experience with it.

Basil pesto is my favorite! your herb garden sounds too good!

I always think that bought pesto never tastes the same, or as good as, homemade. Naturally, I'm completely jealous you lot are in high season over there...my time is coming soon!

Toni, I don't think anything compares to cooking with herbs (and mushrooms?!) from your own garden. I feel so lucky.

Peabody, it might be my imagination, but I think pesto made from your own garden basil tastes better than any other pesto.

Lynda, I think the mayo really adds a smooth creaminess, without screaming "mayonnaise!". Do try.

Julia, your garden must be in peak basil season, too!

Paz, windowsill herbs taste just as good as those in the garden, and you'll be amazed at how they brighten up your food.

Pauline, I don't use lemon juice in my pesto -- do you? I have tried pesto with other basils (there's a variegated, non-flowering variety in my garden this summer), and also with parsley, which is delicious.

Mike, clearly your basil is related to my mint, which grows wherever it wants to pop up. Very unpredictable.

Tammy, my cooking group experimented with freezing basil a couple of years ago, and we were pleasantly surprised with the results. Much better than drying, for that herb, anyway.

Sandie, lime basil is especially wonderful with Thai and Vietnamese dishes. This is my first time growing it, too, and I'm very pleased. The horseradish root was a cutting from a friend's plant, and apparently it will just grow and grow. I'll let you know about that one.

Karen, don't give up on herbs. The windowsill herbs will be better than anything you buy in the market.

Una, you probably wouldn't even notice the mayo, at least not to say "mayo" -- but it does make a difference, at least to me, and I hope you'll try it.

Patricia, the sage in my garden isn't doing all that well this year either. In the fall I'm cutting it down to the ground, to let it come back to life again.

Joanna, this is the first place where I've really felt safe growing herbs to eat. Our Boston apartment had a small back yard, but it was very dark and I always thought the soil must be bad for growing food. Perennial flowers, yes, but not food.

Terry, I can't go without my basil, but it's the parsley that has been a true revelation. The flavor of the organic parsley plants I put in for the past couple of years is astounding -- fresh, bright, assertive.

Veron, my hubby loves it, too.

Brilynn, thanks -- the flavor is great, and I'm convinced that my basil is better this year than ever.

Cate, freezing pesto in ice cube trays is so easy and convenient.

Micaela, hope you like it -- I've been making pesto with this little extra flavor for years.

Rebecca, I keep meaning to take more photos of the whole garden, but it's still on my to-do list.

Sally, it really doesn't take much space to have a wonderful little herb garden.

Julie, chipmunks? Squirrels? What a shame that they share your taste for basil.

Erika, I put lovage in this year, too. You can use it just as you'd use celery. And it's a perennial and will grow to be quite large if you don't keep it in check.

Poonam, I do love my garden this summer!

Neil, I'm jealous of your cool winter weather -- but I do love this season in my garden.

Beautiful photos of your herbs! I was just debating how I would "save" all the basil I got from the CSA this week. One tray of pesto ice cubes coming up!

How beautiful your garden grows, Lydia! All delicious, especially the abundance of basil. Last year we had pineapple sage and chocolate mint; it's fun to experiment.

I can almost smell all of those glorious herbs from here! I do the ice cubes too. They're so convenient.

Couldn't live without my herb garden. And I really love your idea of freezing herbs for winter use. I've often wondered if that would work.

Lovely garden! I do grow herbs on shelves in my kitchen window... but it's a challenge. Go away for a few days in summer and they dry out and fry. Keeping the soil full of enough nutrients isn't easy either. Still, I manage to keep them going just enough to flavor dishes.

TW, there's nothing quite as wonderful as popping a cube of pesto out of the freezer in the middle of winter, and noting how wise you were to freeze pesto during the summer.

Marilyn, I have chocolate mint -- I use it like a ground cover, because it's so prolific. It's especially good with dessert dishes. Never tried pineapple sage, though I've sniffed it at the garden center.

Susan, the herb garden has saved many a humdrum meal!

Michele, freezing does work for some herbs. If you search on Kalyn's Kitchen, you'll find a very good primer on freezing different types of herbs.

Ann, perhaps there will be an herb garden in your future... I thought I'd always be a city dweller with no garden, but look at me now -- a bona fide black thumb, with a thriving herb garden!

it would be nice if we are neighbors..i can have fresh and free herbs all the time LOL i love all your photos!!

Horseradish!!! ....I am green with envy...

I only just started freezing herbs this year. I never knew about that till I was cooking at a friend's place and she took out some fresh basil from the freezer. And I thought, why didn't I think of that.

Lydia - great pictures and your plants look so healthy and lush. I wish I could reach into the screen and help myself. It is so dry here now that I can't keep up with the watering. Graças a Deus that Cíntia's green thumb keeps me in fresh herbs for now...Peter

Lots of Italians in RI, what an interesting fact.
LOVE the garden Lydia, all the herbs look healthy and ready to eat! The lemongrass looks very happy too. I need to know, how does the lemongrass fare during your winters? Does it go dormant or die off? If it does off, does it grow back the following summer? I've heard conflicting stories.
Which variety do you have? Do the stalks have purple coloring to them, or are they all green/white?

I just discovered your blog, and I'm totally hooked. Yours is the first blog I open when I get to work in the morning. I'll be submitting my pantry soon. Onto the subject of your garden: I can't even begin to explain how envious I am of you! I want to start a garden, but I feel intimidated by it. Yours is a beautiful garden, and your pesto looks so delicious! Thanks for the tips, too.

Oh whoa, look at the galore of herbs!
I have been delaying some pesto making here...now tell me, where to get fresh herbs here :(

Dhanggit, if we were neighbors, you could bake for me, and I'd trade for herbs!

Nora, frozen herbs will never be the same as fresh, but they do maintain their bright color and flavor. It's only the texture that suffers a bit, but for soups and stews, it makes no difference at all.

Peter, no shortage of rainfall here this summer. I've only had to water the garden 2 or 3 times since April.

White on Rice, I never try to overwinter lemongrass here -- it wouldn't survive. I have the type with the white/green stalk, not purple. Is the taste the same?

Cortnee, welcome! Once you get started with a garden, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it. I just let Mother Nature do her thing and I try not to interfere too much. (PS -- would love to share your pantry photos, so please send them along!)

Tigerfish, can't help you with local sourcing, but Asian markets always have such a great variety of fresh herbs. Maybe pesto with something other than basil -- Thai basil or mint would be easier to find, I think.

Leave it to Lydia to make a wonderfully delicious-looking pesto! I would use your own recipe anytime!

Oh Lydia I am totally loving your lush garden! I stay in an apartment so I have to make do with a corridor-potted-plants small set up, so imagine how envious I am with the space you have, hee ... lovely pesto dish too :)

Hi Lydia....long time no talk! I see that you are keeping busy as usual...I love this pesto recipe, it's different than mine is..I like the addition of mayo and adding less oil...I'll try it soon.

Pam

Hillary, one of the great joys of having an herb garden is being able to make pesto with really fresh basil any time. No more summer trips to the supermarket for limp basil!

Noobcook, I do love my garden, despite having to share it with every critter that wanders by. But even a small potted plant will give your food a great lift.

Pam, the mayo is really the same as adding oil, but with more emulsifying power from the eggs in the mayo. Hope you like it.

Herbs in the garden are a must and I also have been spoiled for life. I have so much lime basil I am considering taking several bunches to a local cafe and seeing what the chef comes up with. I am thinking of doing a lime basil pesto mayo and topping a swordfish steak with it before I cook it, regular mayo with seasoning is great so I think this would be awesome. I also have so many tomatoes each year in my city garden that I make pasta sauce with all my fresh herbs. I can it and give it to the neighbors and my family. I made sage garlic butter and rubbed it all over and under the skin of a turkey breast that I grilled...out of this world!
It is a beautiful thing to go outside and pick my seasoning for my food. Enjoy your herbs.

Gigi, I couldn't agree more. I love the idea of taking your basil to a local restaurant. Maybe they'd let you hang out in the kitchen, or name a dish on the menu after you! I've used my sage leaves under the skin of turkey for Thanksgiving, too -- never felt more proud of my garden than the first time I did that.

Your garden is looking wonderful. I've got to get busy making pesto around here too, so thanks for the reminder.

Kalyn, the photos of your garden are pretty amazing, and always make me green with envy.

thank you for a tour of your herb garden. gorgeous plants. and fragrant too, i bet. herbs are one of the true blessings of summer.

Oh what a lovely herb garden. I am so envious! Although I have a small garden I have often tried planting herbs - they do not look half as good as yours. I have had better luck with the herbs on my window sill - strangely enough!

I came across this blog with a search engine looking for a pesto reciepe and found myself reading all the posts. I have an apartment and I grow whatever I can on the porch and this year I tried basil and to my suprise I have a large bush and will soon be needing to make pesto thanks for the reciepe and all the tips can't wait to enjoy, and have all year long with the ice cube tray idea. Thanks again

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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