Several years ago, determined as any strong -willed teenager can be, I started digging up the grass in my parents’ yard.
Have you ever dug up sod, by hand, on an 85 degree, humid Chicago summer day?
After getting about a 6′ x 2′ strip of former yard cleared, my father took pity on me and rented a sod cutter. Then, several loads of compost later, I attempted to hand ‘double dig’ the compost into the soil, just like my gardening books advised. Once again, after watching me struggle with a failing, rusty shovel, and many yards of compost and untilled soil, my father came to the rescue with a rototiller.
And thus, my first vegetable garden was born! I found a beautiful, hand crafted metal arbor for the entryway, a statue of St. Francis for positive blessings and minimal rabbit damage, and planted everything from asparagus to zucchini.
I also planted several varieties of basil – Classic Sweet Genovese, Boxwood Basil, Pesto Perpetuo (a beautiful bicolor) and a red variety.. Why on earth would someone plant all that basil around the tomatoes? To attract beneficial insects? Sure… But more importantly, I needed to find the best variety for making pesto, of course!
The quick verdict? Go with the plain Jane, humble Sweet Genovese ‘classic’ basil.
- Boxwood Basil resulted in a pesto with a very mild flavor, which I liked the best, but it is a pain to pick the little leaves off of the stems and if you put the stems in the food processor, they sometimes do/sometimes don’t process all the way.
- Pesto Perpetuo Basil imparted a very strong flavor to the pesto – too strong in my opinion. It is a great ornamental variety and good in small quantities with bruschetta, etc.
- Red basil resulted in a bitter pesto, so I will continue to grow it but more for ornamental purposes
Years later, in my own yard and in a garden my husband helped me grow, I harvested the last of my basil and made my favorite Pistachio Pesto.
2 c. firmly packed basil leaves
2 small cloves garlic
1/3 c. + pistachios, shelled & toasted*
1/2 c. + grated Parmesan or Romano cheese** (if using Romano, you will not need much sea salt, if any)
1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Pulse together a few times. Slowly, pour the olive oil through the feed tube and pulse until the individual ingredients combine and form a vibrant, green paste. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sometimes, I will add a little more cheese instead of salt, but that is my preference.
This pesto freezes well. I usually put about 1/4 c. into small plastic containers, pour the slightest film of olive oil over the top of the pesto, then cover and label the container.
* To ‘toast’ the pistachios: Place pistachios in a small, dry skillet. Heat skillet over medium-low heat and toast the nuts ~ 5 minutes, until slightly fragrant, shaking the skillet occasionally to keep the nuts from burning. Toasting is not necessary for this recipe, but it does intensify the flavor of the pistachios.
** I like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Locatelli Romano. Please don’t use parmesan out of the green cylinder. The basil and pistachios will start to cry. Let the best ingredients shine.