Cooking, Gardening

The Humble Basil Plant = a Mean Pistachio Pesto

One of the many seasons in the garden:  the beginning

One of the many seasons in a garden: the beginning

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.

Pistachio Pesto Ingredients

Pistachio Pesto Ingredients

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.

Prior to 'pulsing' into pesto

Prior to ‘pulsing’ into pesto

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.

Fresh Basil on "The Don's" porch

Fresh Basil on “The Don’s” porch


5 thoughts on “The Humble Basil Plant = a Mean Pistachio Pesto

    • I hope you enjoy the recipe! It is a simple one I have been making for several years. You can also substitute part or all of the pistachios with pine nuts or walnuts. The pesto will still taste great.

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