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When life hands you basil, make pesto

For The Daily Gazette

My friend Carl grows basil in containers on a south-facing brick wall in downtown Troy and brings me big bags of the stuff. I’d never made pesto before, but now, up to my eyeballs in it, I realized I had to do something, and soon.

There’s no family go-to recipe, especially one that calls for six cups of basil leaves at a time. So I hit the cooking websites and came up with something simple that worked for me, and might well work for you.

First, let’s talk about pignoli, or pine nuts, found in most recipes for pesto. I stopped buying them a few years ago after reading news reports that Chinese pine nuts can leave a bitter taste in your mouth that lasts for weeks. Some recipes call for walnuts or pistachios instead.

Reading through dozens of recipes online, I learned that pesto has five essential ingredients: basil, garlic, olive oil, Parmesan or Romano cheese, and nuts.Proportions varied in each, but this is what I settled on, and it was great. The better the ingredients, the better the product, and this becomes infinitely more important the fewer there are.

My recipe used six cups of fresh basil leaves and made one generous cup of pesto, enough for six people for a meal with pasta. Add more garlic or oil as you wish. But don’t limit yourself — the pesto makes a great dip with thinly sliced French bread or can be used as an ingredient in other recipes.

Urban Pesto

3 small cloves garlic
1⁄2 cup good-quality olive oil
6 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and without stems.
Cooked pasta (I use one 12-ounce box of farfalle)
1⁄2 cup salted pistachio nuts, for topping
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Peel the garlic and purée it in a blender or food processor with two tablespoons of the oil.

Add the basil leaves alternately with the remainder of the oil, pressing down the leaves as needed to chop them up. Fold in the grated cheese.

Toss with cooked pasta and top with pistachios.

To store, pour into small containers and top with a thin layer of olive oil to seal off air and prevent discoloration.

Makes six servings.

Note: To make creamy pesto, for each serving, add 1 tablespoons of butter melted in 1⁄4 cup heavy cream over low heat.

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