Whole Parenting Family

Pass the Pesto: Use That Basil!

We planted mega basil plants this year, as discussed in my Spring into Gardening article, and wow are we reaping the benefits! I harvested three cups of large delicious basil leaves on Friday, and planned on making pesto sauce for our Pizza Fridays tradition. Of course the day eluded my attempts to make the dough in time so instead we had pasta with pesto sauce. Little Sweet Pea enjoyed the pasta (sans pesto) while AA and I stuffed ourselves with pesto. Here’s a variation on the theme of an Alice Water’s recipe that’s simple, easy, and delish. (If you aren’t familiar with Alice Waters, my cuisine hero!!!!, get familiar here.)

1) Ingredients.

Basil leaves, as fresh as possible. We tripled the batch, but you really only need a cupful (pre-cutting or washing).

Pine nuts, or brazil nuts, or a nut that’s oily. 1/4 cup of these in their whole form.

Parmesan cheese. Save your tastebuds and don’t get the pre-grated as it’s just so much better if you grate it yourself just before use. 1/4 cup grated.

Garlic clove. The real deal is best, and not the Spice World pre-diced stuff in a jar, or dried/jarred garlic in any form. 1 clove.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Use the best stuff you can as it really makes a difference on the flavor. About a cup.

Salt. A pinch. We use kosher salt or sea salt most often when cooking (flavor!).

Just five ingredients and a pinch of salt and you’re all set.

2) Equipment.

a. Pounder: You will need something to pound everything to a paste with. I highly recommend a mortar & pestle. Otherwise you could use the end of a large cooking utensil that had a bulbous shape to emulate a pestle and just a bowl that can get banged up.

b. Heater: You will also need a toaster oven or conventional oven with a cookie sheet.

c. Tools: You’ll need a cheese grater, spatula, spoon, and measuring cups.

3) Directions.

a. Garlic: Peel garlic clove and gently mash up with a knife. Place it into the mortar with a pinch of salt (helps break down the garlic and release its deliciousity).

Now pound away with pestle until it’s a beaten pulp.

b. Pine Nuts: toast them in the oven about 5-8 minutes until they’re a lovely brown. Watch out as they burn very quickly! Then add them to the garlic mix in the mortar.

Now mush!

Keep going until the grains of the nuts are showing. Don’t give up early or your pesto will have hard spots.

c. Cheese. So you’ve grated it, now you add it to the pine nut mixture in the mortar. If you’re running out of room, move to a bigger bowl but still use the pestle. It really works to get them emulsified together, which is key to taste.

And you know the drill: mash it up.

d. Basil. At this point, remove everything from the mortar and put it into a separate bowl so as to make room for your basil. You will need to mash that up for a few minutes before adding it all together. Ensure your basil has been washed, dried (just not super wet), and coarsely chopped.

Now mash away.

Everything comes together now.

e. Olive Oil. I add about a cup for the recipe as described above, but really just keep added and mixing until it looks and tastes right to you.

f. Pasta. We try to only eat whole wheat pasta. Who wants wheat stripped of its nutrients and then enriched? Yeech. So fusilli was the choice with pesto for this time around.


  1. Shena on July 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    You’re making me feel a little lazy, bc I use my food processor. Do you think it’s better with the old mortar and pestle? Maybe for small amounts (though what about a coffee grinder? Yes, I’m lazy).

    We love pesto, and last year we had so much basil that we couldn’t eat enough. So, I made a huge batch and dropped them into typical meal-serving sizes onto a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper; froze it; then froze them in little baggies with waxed paper between them for easy microwave defrosting throughout the winter. I think if you’re going to do that you should leave the cheese out and grate that over last minute (but we forgot). Tasty!

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 11, 2011 at 9:09 pm

      Good call on leaving the cheese out in the freezer. The ones I’ve frozen in ice cube trays haven’t thawed well (and I think it’s been the cheese!). I do think the mortar & pestle makes a difference because it opens up the ingredients without completely demolishing them. But being a mother of multiple means that short cuts are necessary, right? So you’re “efficient” and not “lazy.” 🙂

  2. AliO on July 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm

    My mouth is watering as I read…

  3. Shena on July 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    BTW, you should use your mortar and pestle to make Mojitos! We need to buy a m&p.

    • Novice Natural Mama on July 11, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      Excellent notion. If only I had planted real mint and not lemon mint (and yes, it has taken over the pot in which it resides), I’d be all set for those!

  4. KK on July 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Looks and sounds nummy!

  5. Update on Our Garden « Whole Parenting on July 18, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    […] has done splendidly in a pot. So healthy. Definitely doing the multi-basil plants again next year. Pesto on a weekly basis has been […]