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Fresh Basil Pesto

On Saturday we harvested fresh basil from our sidewalk garden and made fresh pesto. I am sure many of you out there have bumper basil crops, too. Here is a simple but classic pesto recipe given to me years ago by a former employee. The recipe came from her mother, who may or may not have been Italian. But it doesn't really matter since it turns out easy, but great tasting pesto!

When we ran this recipe last August, I received a number of comments from pesto purists who took issue with our use of a food processor. Purists believe that the only true pesto is a quasi religious experience achieved by hand, using a mortar and pestle. After all "Pesto" does mean "Pounded Sauce" in Italian. It's a lot of work and probably an invitation for carpal tunnel syndrome but I have also reproduced Fred Plotkin's Pesto recipe from his book Recipes From Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera as presented in the July 31, 2000 issue of Wine Spectator.

We try to keep our recipes quick and easy. So, I apologize to you purists out there. If you have the time and energy to do it by hand, I salute your diligence! I'll keep the Cuisinart!

Fresh Basil Pesto
the Easy Way

1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup olive oil
2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
4 or 5 garlic cloves
3/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Place the ingredients in a food processor and blend on high until creamy. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze in small batches for later.

Remember a little pesto goes a long way. We often toss this with fettuccini and some steamed vegetables for a quick dinner. Or, sauté some shrimp and asparagus in olive oil and garlic and use angel hair with the pesto. We also like to make shrimp pizza with it or bake it on chicken.

Fresh Basil Pesto
the Religious Experience

A marble mortar and pestle
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
60 small and 30 large basil leaves - cleaned using a moist paper towel rather than immersion in water with stems and spines removed
2 garlic cloves with the green hearts removed
2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano

Place 6 small basil leaves into the mortar with the sea salt. Mash with the pestle in a steady rhythm, and continue to gradually add all the leaves. Halfway through add the garlic cloves. When the garlic is almost incorporated, add the pine nuts. Once the pine nuts are mashed, stir in the cheese, then add the olive oil and continue until all ingredients are incorporated. (WG Note: Then take a nap)