I've made homemade pestos for years, but have always done so on the fly, never from a recipe. A few handfuls of fresh basil here, some gratings of parmesan there, sometimes one garlic clove, sometimes two, and a liberal sprinkling of pine nuts. All of this blended with the best olive oil I had always delivered a good pesto, sometimes a great one, but one that was always a little different.
Sadly, one thing that never varied with these pestos was their tendency to lose their vibrant green color and turn an ugly army green-brown just hours after being made. To make matters worse, it wasn't just the color that oxidized, it was the flavor as well, and nothing I did, like coating the pesto with a thin layer of oil, or storing it with plastic wrap pressed tight to its surface seemed to halt its degradation.
This pesto however, slightly adapted from a recent recipe in Bon Appetit magazine, changes all that. I suspect that the blanching and shocking of the basil has a lot to do with it, but it also may be the much higher ratio of basil to the other ingredients than I typically do, and the fact that the oil is gently whisked in at the end of the process, and not blitzed in with the blender, that might make a significant difference. Whatever it is, this recipe yields a pesto that is light and fresh, bursting with the goodness of basil, and holds on tight to its bright green color for days after being made.
When we made this the other day, we simply tossed it with some spaghetti for a delicious, spring-like dish, but it would also be delicious served up on bruschetta, or tossed into a shrimp risotto. It's color makes for a beautiful plate, and it's vibrant flavor will have you going back to this recipe again and again.
Cheers – Steve
- 8 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (from about 2 large bunches)
- 1/2 cup finely grated parmesan reggiano cheese
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 1 large garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 cup best quality EVOO
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 pound spaghetti or linguine
- Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Prepare an ice bath by loading a large bowl with water and ice and then submerging a fine meshed sieve in the middle of it. Working in two batches, blanch the basil in the boiling water for 20-30 seconds per batch, then using a slotted spoon or skimmer, immediately remove it to the sieve that's set in the ice water bath. Reserve 1/2 cup of the blanching water to help thin the pesto when being blended.
- Once all the basil is fully chilled, pull the sieve from the water bath to drain. Squeeze the basil in your hands to remove any excess water, then place in a clean dish towel and twist it tightly to remove as much water as possible.
- Place the chopped garlic clove, the grated cheese, the basil and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor, or a blender jar. Blitz on high, slowly adding between 1/4 and 1/2 cup of the blanching liquid until a nice bright green paste is formed. Move the paste to a medium bowl and gently mix in the EVOO, season to taste with salt and pepper and reserve.
- Heat your blanching water back to a boil and cook the pasta in it per the manufacturers instructions for al dente. Drain well and toss with the fresh pesto, thinning with more cooking water if necessary. Serve with more freshly grated cheese passed at the table, alongside a light green salad and a warm, crusty loaf of bread.