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Recipe: Pesto with homegrown basil

It is an absolute delight to harvest from our own garden, irrespective of how small the garden is and how less the produce is. I harvested some basil from my balcony garden last week and made some delicious pesto out of it. You can check out this video, if you wish to see the garden space in my apartment. 


Basil, as many of you know is a flavoursome herb primarily used in cooking. When I was in India, I once had pesto pasta in an Italian restaurant and that is my first encounter with this herb. But after few years, I tasted its fresh leaves as a salad topping when I was Germany and fell in love with it. It has a very refreshing taste. Its flavour and taste slightly resemble our Indian Tulasi, so most of us mistake Basil for Tulasi (Holy Basil). They both along with other herbs like mint, parsley, sage, oregano, chia, rosemary, thyme etc. belong to a flowering plant family known as Lamiaceae, commonly called Mint Family. These plants are aromatic and are used in cooking and making balms and medicines.

While Basil is used in culinary preparations, Tulasi finds its place in medicinal preparations. Basil leaf's texture is soft and thin, while Tulasi is coarse and thick. Basil has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties making it aid in gut health, skin health, diabetes management, apart from detoxifying the body. Basil can be eaten raw as topping on salads, pizza and sandwich or can be brewed into a herbal tea or can be pounded into pesto or can be included in a variety of dishes. Irrespective of how it is used, basil imparts a wonderful flavour and elevates the taste of the dish.

Pesto is nothing but a sauce that originated from Italy. In Indian terms, we could call it as a chutney. Herbs like basil, mint, parsley, oregano, chives or a combination of any two or more of these or all combined together can be used to make pesto. Traditionally, Italians made pesto by pounding the herb with a mortar and pestel along with garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil and served it with pasta. Pesto can also be used as a salad dressing, spread on bread, sauce in making pizza and lasagna, veggie dip etc.

Generally pine nuts are expensive and aren't readily found in the aisles of all the shops, so you can substitute it with walnuts or almonds. Parmesan cheese is preferred for making pesto, due to its unique taste and texture. I believe in cooking with easily available ingredients. So I won't suggest you run to the nearby super market to buy parmesan. I am sure, most of us would stock up on cheddar in our refrigerators. So if you don't have parmesan handy, try using cheddar. I made basil pesto with cheddar last time and it tasted delicious too; nevertheless parmesan indisputably imparts the authentic taste and texture in a pesto recipe. With cheddar, the pesto turned out to be creamy. 

Coming to its preparation, pesto doesn't involve any chopping or cooking. Doesn't it sound inviting? Yes, all that you do is simply grind all the ingredients together, making it an easy-peasy recipe, which needs hardly 10 minutes of our time. If you have excess basil, you can make a big batch of pesto and store it in the refrigerator for 3-5 days or may freeze it as well to stay a bit longer. However, we have to carefully store pesto, otherwise it might lose its bright green colour. I have shared a tip towards the end of the post, to tackle this discolouration.  

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By now, you know what ingredients goes into this recipe and how to prepare it, but as a customary practice of a recipe post, let me share the ingredients and procedure below.

Ingredients:

  • Basil leaves - 2 handfuls
  • Walnuts - 1/3 cup
  • Parmesan cheese (grated) - 1/3 cup
  • Garlic - 2 cloves
  • Olive oil (extra virgin) - 1/4 cup
  • Pepper powder - 1/4 tsp
  • Lime juice - 1 tbps
  • Salt - To taste
Procedure:
  • To a mixer grinder jar, add garlic and walnuts and grind until they are coarsely ground
  • Add basil leaves and grind for 2 minutes
  • Now add the remaining ingredients (i.e., cheese, oil, pepper powder, salt and lime juice) and grind the pesto until it is chunky. Traditional pesto is supposed to be chunky and not super smooth, but I would say make it in accordance to your taste buds!!! 

Tips:

  • While washing the basil leaves, use cold water. Otherwise they will wilt and also lose their bright green colour. Drain off the water well before grinding them.
  • You may add couple more garlic cloves, if you like your pesto garlicky 
  • Add more olive oil if you wish to have a thinner consistency 
  • If pesto is exposed to air, it oxidizes and turns brown. In case, you wish to store the pesto for 2-5 days, store it in an airtight container with a layer of olive oil on top of it.

You can find the video of this recipe below.





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