How To Store Basil
There are a number of great ways to keep basil fresh until youre ready to use it. If you think youll use it within a day or two, keep the basil in a jar of water on your countertop. The way youd keep a bouquet of flowers. If you think it will be a few days beyond that, treat the basil like you would salad greens. Give the basil a gentle wash, then wrap the leaves in a clean kitchen towel or paper towels, place this in a baggie, and refrigerate until ready to use.
What Is The Best Olive Oil For Pesto Sauce
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
The first ingredient test I wanted to do was of the olive oil. I went into this thinking this would be one of the most important factors in the final sauce. Because there are so many thousands of brands of olive oil on the market, there was no way to try all of them, so I kept it simple here to test a basic premise: Does good Ligurian olive oil matter?
To find out, I pitted a bottle of pricey Ligurian oil against a months-old jumbo tin of cheapo, all-purpose olive oil that we use in the test kitchen for everyday tasks. I made two equal batches of pesto, with the only difference being the oil.
Nearly every taster in the office preferred the pesto made with the Ligurian oiljust one gravitated to the pesto with the cheaper oil. But, while the Ligurian oil came out on top, being more buttery and rounded in flavor, we all agreed that the differences were incredibly subtle. In fact, few realized the oil was different, and many assumed I had changed the garlic or some other ingredient.
Going back to the pungency of pesto, this makes some sense: When it’s loaded with basil, garlic, aged cheeses, and nuts, the nuances of a good oil become much harder to taste. That doesn’t mean it makes no difference, but the differences aren’t as stark as one might think.
What Does Pesto Taste Like
The strongest flavors in this sauce come from the basil and garlic, which is then balanced by the olive oil and pine nuts. Since pine nuts are an oily type nut they bring a buttery taste to the spread. Depending on the type of cheese youll also have hints of salt. You should be able to taste all the flavors of the ingredients added into this fresh sauce.
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How To Make Pesto Cream Sauce
This 5-minute pesto cream sauce is genius: just simmer pesto and cream until a thick sauce forms! Its perfect for serving with pasta or fish.
Heres a genius kitchen move: 5-minute pesto cream sauce! Did you know you can simmer pesto with cream and it thickens into a sauce? You dont need to make a roux with butter and flour like a normal cream sauce, watching anxiously to make sure it doesnt burn. Nope, just throw these two ingredients into a pan and voila! Youve got a beautiful, bright green sauce thats full of savory, herby flavor. Its perfect for pasta, and even better drizzled over salmon or grilled fish. Heres the quick and easy method: then memorize it and make it on repeat.
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What Is Pesto Sauce
This may sound like a stupid questionof course we know what pesto sauce is. Its that green, herbal stuff, with nuts and basil and olive oil. But thats not quite right.
Pesto is a more generic Italian term that describes a wide variety of puréed sauces, traditionally made using a mortar and pestle. The most famous, and the one were talking about here, is pesto alla genovese, from the Ligurian city of Genoa and its environs. While people get creative with it today, using different herbs and nuts and who knows what else, traditional pesto alla genovese contains only these ingredients: basil, olive oil, nuts , cheese, and salt. Thats it.
There are other pesto sauces worth knowing about, though, including Sicilys blushing-red pesto alla trapanese, which is rich with tomatoes southern Frances pistou and many, many more.
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Can I Make Pesto With Dried Basil
- Fresh basil creates the essential taste and texture for pesto, which you can’t get from dried basil. However, you can certainly make a quick pasta dish featuring traditional pesto ingredients — slivered or chopped garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and grated cheese, along with dried basil instead of fresh — in a deconstructed “pesto” pasta dish that also doesn’t require a food processor or mortar and pestle. Here’s a related recipe for Elegant Orzo with Wilted Spinach and Pine Nuts, which you could use as a base for experimentation.
Ideas For Customizing Pesto
- If you dont have basil, you can substitute spinach, kale, arugula, parsley, cilantro, mint, tarragon, or even sage. You can also go a little crazy and combine some of the herbs to make your own new favorite flavor creation.
- Make pesto a bit on the spicy side by adding a pinch or two of red pepper flakes before blending.
- Pine nuts can be pricy and sometimes hard to find. Other nuts I like to use include cashews, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, sunflower seeds, and even pistachios.
- Skip the lemon juice if youd like a more classically flavored pesto.
- Different cheeses you can substitute for parmesan in pesto include any other hard cheese you like, such as pecorino Romano, Asiago, or any other salty, hard aged cheese will work. Dont try the soft cheeses those end up a gloopy mess.
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Pine Nuts Or Other Nuts/seeds
Pine nuts are the traditional choice . Pine nuts are tender, buttery and high in fat, so they yield smoother, silkier pesto.
On the downside, pine nuts are prohibitively expensive. I save money by using raw almonds, walnuts, pecans or pepitas instead. Almonds are the most neutral option, so I used them for the pesto you see here. Theyre all delicious in their own way, though.
I typically toast the nuts first to really bring out their flavor and add an extra-savory edge to the pesto.
Chop By Hand Or Blender
Per the above, this pesto celebrates hand-chopping. Correspondingly, if you’re serious about making good pesto using the hand-chop technique you’ll need a sharp mezzaluna, or a good knife. The sharpness of your blade absolutely matters because you don’t want to bruise or tear your basil. Whatever you use to chop, make sure it has a sharp blade or the basil will turn dark. Chopping the ingredients will take twenty minutes or so. Once you chop your ingredients, you’ll form them into a cake, pictured above. You add olive oil to this cake, and it’s magic – below.
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Toasty Or Soft Garlic Bread
The methods for making toasty garlic bread or soft garlic bread are slightly different:
- Crispy, toasty garlic bread gets sliced in half down its length, spread with butter and garlic, and then baked open-faced in the oven. Broil it at the end for extra crispiness.
- Soft garlic bread gets sliced like an accordion , then slather the butter mixer between the slices. Wrap the bread up in foil, then bake. This will keep the bread soft while infusing garlicky-butter into each slice.
How Can I Keep Pesto From Turning Brown
- Fresh basil is very delicate, and will turn brown if it gets very hot or if it’s exposed to air for long periods of time. Here’s how to keep basil green when making pesto: Use a little fresh spinach as well as basil in the pesto — fresh spinach helps pesto maintain its brilliant green color.
- You can also keep pesto looking fresh and green by covering the top with a thin layer of olive oil or with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on its surface this will keep it from oxidizing and turning brown. (If your pesto darkens in color, it will still taste good. Only discard it if it has been stored improperly.
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How To Store Pesto Sauce For Later
- Store it in the fridge, in a glass jar fitted with a tight lid for up to a week.
- Make sure you add some extra virgin olive oil to the surface.
- Make sure to cover the surface with plastic wrap before closing the lid.
- The green pesto will turn an even darker green color with time, but it will still be good.
- Freeze it in silicone ice cube trays for later use. We like to make large batches of pesto in the summer when basil is in season, freeze it and use it in the winter to add to soups, pasta, and pizza. We like the silicone trays because it is very easy to remove just one cube of pesto as needed. It lasts in the freezer for up to a year. Make sure the silicone ice cube trays are covered with a freezer bag or with aluminum foil and plastic wrap.
How To Freeze Pesto In Jar
You can freeze all the ingredients in a standard jar of pesto. Before freezing, transfer pesto out of the glass jar and into a freezer-safe tub or freezer bag and freeze it for up to 2 months.
If you wish to reuse the pesto in small quantities, freeze it in an ice cube tray. Once the cubes freeze, you can pop them out of the mold and transfer them to a tub or bag.
To use, simply remove from the freezer before eating and leave at room temperature to thaw.
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How To Make Basil Pesto
Pro Tip: After blending the pesto, add more salt to taste if desired. Keep in mind that store-bought pesto sauces can be significantly saltier since they are compensating for freshness. Salt also preserves the sauce for longer shelf life.
You Can Blanch The Basilor Not
There are dueling opinions among cooks about whether or not to blanch basil leaves before turning them into pesto. When cut, basil leaves will start to oxidize and turn brown. However, if the leaves are blanched first , they will keep their bright green color. The downside is the added work and time to blanch the leaves. Also, some say that blanching diminishes the vibrant flavor of the basil.
If the pesto youre making will be eaten quickly, youre fine to skip blanching. For pesto that youre planning to store or freeze for a while , you can blanch and dry your basil leaves before processing them.
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Create A More Rustic Texture
To have larger pieces of basil in your pesto and a more traditional texture, process the basil leaves in a few batches. Pulse the food processor just a few times until the leaves are coarsely chopped, remove them and repeat with the next batch.
Another way to get an authentic, rustic pesto is to make the pesto entirely with a mortar and pestle. First, the pine nuts are ground down, then the basil leaves with salt. The cheese is pounded in next, followed by long pours of olive oil. This traditional method creates a thick and more textured pesto sauce.
Choosing The Best Basil For Making Pesto
Genovese pesto is famous in part because it is often made with young, small basil leaves. For us non-Italians it is easy to find Genovese basil in stores and at farmers markets, particularly in the summer. That said, chances are it wasnt picked young. I wouldnt worry about it too much, simply by hand chopping all your ingredients, you will see a major shift in personality of your pesto.
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How To Make Pesto In A Food Processor Or Blender
What Ingredients You Need
The best basil pestos are made with simple, fresh ingredients. This recipe is a great way to use up that abundance of basil you have grown this summer and includes many items you likely already have on hand.
Here is everything needed to make our Creamy Basil Pesto Sauce:
- Basil leaves main ingredient for this sauce
- Pine nuts brings in the creaminess to the recipe
- Pecorino cheeseor parmesan
- Garlic cloves you can add as much or as little as you would like
- Lemon zest It brings a freshness to the recipe
- Extra-virgin olive oil oil complements the pine nuts creaminess
- Heavy cream A great combining ingredient
- Salt and pepper Season to taste
If you dont enjoy or cant find pine nuts, you can substitute walnuts, almonds, or pistachios in this pesto recipe for a similar mild flavor and great texture.
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More Recipes With Pesto
Are you pesto crazed like we are? Good. Here are some of our top recipes that use pesto, most of them inspired by a load of summer basil:
- Pesto Spaghetti Heres the trick to getting the creamiest pesto spaghetti evenly covered in silky sauce! A fast and easy dinner.
- Pesto Shrimp Savory basil pesto is a natural pairing with juicy shrimp serve with pasta or rice for an easy dinner idea.
- Pesto Mac and Cheese A swirl of basil pesto brings so much flavor to this classic comfort food!
- Pesto Pizza Top our famous pizza dough with basil pesto and thinly sliced tomatoes.
How Can You Make Pesto Taste Better
Sometimes pesto can taste bitter. Extra-virgin olive oil contains relatively large amounts of chemical compounds called polyphenols, which usually remain trapped within the fat molecules of the oil. When those fat droplets are broken up by the blades of a blender or food processor, the polyphenols, which have a bitter flavor, are released into the emulsion. The more the oil is blended, the more bitter it can become. That’s why we recommend stirring in the oil and cheese after blending.
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How To Store & Freeze Pesto
Use the sauce immediately or store it in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil . It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
Pesto can also be frozen in an airtight container for up to 6 months. I suggest dividing it into the compartments of an ice cube tray and freezing. Once frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and put in a sealable plastic bag or airtight container. You can add the defrosted cubes to soups, pasta dishes, eggs, sandwiches, and potatoes.
What Type Of Basil Should I Use
There are many varieties of basil. A few of the most popular include Italian large leaf , Thai, and lemon basil.
Any of these can be used for pesto but each has a slightly different flavor profile. For a traditional basil pesto flavor, youll want to use the Italian large leaf. Its the basil leaf that most people typically think of as normal basil. Its also referred to as sweet basil or Genovese basil. This is the type of basil sold in most grocery stores.
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The Best Equipment For Making Pesto Sauce: Mortar And Pestle Or Food Processor
If there’s one shortcut most people take with pesto sauce, it’s using a food processor, which turns a somewhat laborious process into one of the quickest and easiest of sauces to put together.
But just look at the name: pesto. It’s related to the Italian verb “pestare,” which means to crush or mash. A mortar and pestle can crush and mash , but a food processor chops and minces. Is this an acceptable shortcut? Two side-by-side batches would reveal all.
For my food processor batch, I used a mini processor, because I was working with a half batch of pesto. I also made sure to stir the olive oil in at the end, since blending olive oil at high speeds can sometimes give it bitter flavors, which seemed like an unfair way to disadvantage the food processor batch in this test.
I started by blitzing the garlic and pine nuts together. Then I added the basil and pulsed it until it was finely minced.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
I added the olive oil in a thin stream, stirring it in.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
Next, I made the same recipe, using the exact same ratio, with the mortar and pestle.
I started by pounding the garlic into a rough paste. Then I added the pine nuts, smacking them down into crumbled bits before grinding them with the garlic into a sticky beige paste.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
The mortar and pestle pesto was looking even better than the food processor one. The proof, though, was in tasting them.
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik
Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik