Basil balm for the soul: Confessions of a pesto-maker

I eat pesto like most people eat Wheaties. Out of a bowl with a spoon.

Pesto in the food processing bowl. Add only enough oil to create a pesto vortex.

That said, I try to curtail my impulses to do so, favoring a slice of cuke, zuchinni or a thin cracker to host the spread. I have grown basil for about 15 years, always overplanting, sometimes not harvesting it all before the freeze gets it.

And a frost does do it in, no scraping by until next time. It is toast at 32 degrees. Throughout the years, the herbs and veggies I grow in the garden come and go, but basil has been a constant lover. And like any love affair, I sometimes take its glory for granted, not enjoying it every chance I get. This year, I am attempting to change that.

I pick basil within a minute of processing it, for ultimate freshness and I don’t mind a few stems and seeds and flowers. It’s all part of the earthy deliciousness.

My pesto-making, pestoing I call it, has always revolved around two objectives: avoid spendy pine nuts and cut down on the cheese and oil to help watch my figure.

My basic recipe, a version of which I just completed, begins with pulverizing 2 cloves of garlic with 1/3 cup or so of roasted sunflower seeds. To that I usually add 2/3 cup of Parmesan cheese, but tonight I used a blend of Parmesan, asiago, mozzarella and smoked provolone. Next comes a colander full of fresh-picked basil, not washed, just thrown in the bowl and pestled by the blade. When all is pulverized, I begin to stream in olive oil until a small vortex of ingredients spins freely and the hit of spicy, sweet, nutty, garlic-ness hits my nose. Two small tomatoes blended in makes for more of a dip than a spread.


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