What to do with a whole lotta basil? And a whole lotta walnuts? Pesto! Pesto! Pesto! Pesto! P-E-S-T-O!
Farmer’s Kate & Jeff at Echo Valley bring in bushels of walnuts and we sit around the kitchen table cracking nuts, eating the ‘bad’ ones, and sipping coffee. It’s a good breakfast. After 4 hours of smashing nuts with hammers and crushing with crab claws we barely have any walnut meat to show for our hard work.
Nonetheless, we have enough for a big batch of pesto. And I prefer the bitter-sweetness of walnuts to pine nuts. Besides, pine nuts are ridiculously expensive this year and there are 3 walnut trees on the farm that are going crazy with little green grenades that bomb the ground haphazardly. Nuts away!
The basil is out of control: vibrant, bushy, and growing like weeds. I like to run my hands through the basil beds releasing their fragrance into the air. But enough basil romancing, there’s just too darn much of it.
Making pesto to sell at a farmer’s market is different than making pesto at home for immediate consumption. And at Echo Valley farm we have been trying to get it right. And by “right” I mean a pesto that does not turn black and keeps a bright green color, a pesto that has a nice balance in flavor (not too garlicky, not too walnut-y, not too cheese-y), a pesto that is a mixture with visually separate ingredients not a uniform paste.
When I make pesto at home for one meal – and one meal only– I mix ingredients with a mortal and pestle or hand chop and add olive oil to combine. But if you’ve got a crop of basil? (We’re talking pounds not bunches.) How to preserve this amazing condiment without pasteurizing and killing all the antioxidents and flavor?
In the restaurant business we make pesto by first blanching the basil for a few seconds and then shocking in ice water. This helps to lock in the chloroform and bright green color. It also stabilizes the flavor and, unfortunately, I think it also diminishes it some.
For me, one of the worst aspects about store bought pesto are the added ingredients. Most add canola oil. Why? Because it’s cheap. And because it doesn’t thicken as easily as olive oil in the refrigerator.
Store bought pesto often adds spinach to improve the bright green appearance. This isn’t so bad, but again it’s cheaper than basil.
After experimenting with fresh and blanched ingredients I think blanching is the way to go if making a batch of it to last a week or more. Freezing also works – but I always forget that I have it on hand.
The best comment we’ve received on this recipe was from taste tester and neighboring farmer Brian at Addwater farms. He said, and I quote, “Shut the door, that was the best pesto I’ve ever had”.
Try for yourself, and include any notes. We would love to hear any and all fresh pesto debates. We hope to have sellable products coming soon to the Pescadero Farmer’s market and community food stores.
- 5 1/2 pounds genovese basil, weighed before picking leaves
- 1/2 pound walnuts, toasted
- 6 extra large cloves of elephant garlic, or more depending on flavor
- 4 cups extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for topping jars
- 1 1/2 pounds parmesan cheese, rough chopped or store bought corsely grated
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or more to taste
- 18 Kerr's Wide Mouth 8oz mason jars or 8oz plastic deli containers
Prepare an ice bath in a clean sink or large bowl. In a large non-reactive pot boil moderately salted water for blanching. In batches blanch basil for 2 seconds, remove immediately and plunge into ice bath. Drain and set aside in refrigerator. Repeat until all basil is blanched, changing blanching water if it turns green. Cut garlic cloves in half, remove tiny germ inside, and blanch in boiling water for ten seconds, remove to ice bath.
Due to the large quantity of ingredients this pesto is best made in a few batches that are equally divided. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade add garlic and walnuts and pulse to roughly chop. Add basil pressed dry of water, and cheese. Pulse to chop while drizzling olive oil. This must be done quickly. If the food processor's motor gets too hot it will begin to turn the basil black.
Mix separate batches together, check for correct seasoning and adjust. Fill jars just below screw mark level and top with 1/4" of extra virgin olive oil. This will help to seal the pesto so it doesn't turn color.
Pesto can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Or frozen for 3 months.