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Easy Pesto Pasta & Tips for Using Fresh Basil

I know you can whip this up in a few minutes because I did on Sunday afternoon.  We had out-of-town family visiting and as we enjoyed a late morning sightseeing trip, it became clear that lunch was in order.  Everyone else was being polite about how hungry they were, but my stomach was not.

Yikes – I had been having such a good time, I hadn't planned a lunch for 5!  With a quick stop at a farmers market for bread and fresh tomatoes, I realized that the basil plants growing on our back deck and the boundless supply of pasta in the pantry were my best bet.  I love this recipe because it has directions I can remember easily – chop everything.  After cutting the fresh basil, I set to work on the pesto, and was finished in the time it took the pasta to cook. Not bad for a last minute lunch!

what is pesto

3 Tips on Using Fresh Basil 

basil plants
  • Basil leaves don’t all taste the same.  A number of different types of basil are used in cooking. Growing conditions and the point at which the leaves are picked also affect taste.  I use common sweet basil for this recipe.  Pick your leaves before the plant flowers, as the flowers indicate the plan is aging, and in my experience, the older leaves are more bitter-tasting.  
  • Pick leaves at the top of the plant by pinching or cutting them off at the stem.  The more frequently you harvest the grown leaves, typically the bushier and better the plan will grow. 
  • Do not refrigerate fresh basil leaves because it will darken them. (Even once the pesto is made, the chopped fresh basil will darken slightly, though less so because it is immersed in oil.) If you are not ready to make the pesto immediately, put them in a vase or cup of water until using them.

Easy Pesto for Pasta

Serves 5 (on 1 – 1 ½ lbs of cooked pasta)  Cost - $3.50 if you have basil, $6 if you buy it

Ingredients

pesto recipe
  • 1 cup of clean, dry basil leaves, firmly packed
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced 
  • ½ teaspoon salt (preferably kosher)  
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon butter 

Equipment

pesto pasta
  • Small food processor, immersion blender or another way to chop ingredients into a paste
  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Garlic press (optional)
  • Cup for measuring liquid (weight)
  • Cup for measuring solids volume
  • Measuring spoons
  • Spatula 

Preparation

  • Wash and dry the basil leaves.
  • Mince the garlic with a press or on the cutting board with the knife.
  • Grate the cheese.
  • Cut the butter into 2 or 3 pieces.
  • Put the basil, oil, nuts, garlic, cheese, salt and pepper into the food processor or bowl and purée.  Scrape the sides of the processor to make sure all the ingredients are chopped.  
20120801pestoinprocessor.jpg

Add the butter and blend again.  

20120801pestoplainandonpasta.jpg

Serve on pasta.  If the pesto is more concentrated than you prefer, dilute it with a few tablespoons of the water in which the pasta was cooked.  Serve with additional grated cheese on the side.  You can easily double this recipe if your crowd is bigger than 4-5.

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