The annual pesto-making adventure

For those of you who know me, I love to garden and have fresh veggies in the summertime.  There’s nothing quite like a vine-ripened tomato from your own garden.  More on that later- I’ve got a promising crop this year!

In addition to veggies, I enjoy growing basil…a lot of it!  I love it in caprese salads made with goat cheese, but I grow my basil primarily for the purpose of making pesto.  Specifically, I make a pesto spread for pizzas.  Tasty.

This pesto-making adventure is a once-a-year deal because it’s so time consuming and I try to wait as long as I can to chop off the basil.  I typically have four or five basil plants, which is plenty for my purposes.  This year I only had four so I might go out and get another one to have ready for my summer salads.

Anyway, let me get back to this pesto thing.  Mr. Hall and I love to make pizzas in the fall and winter months.  There is something about a pizza made with homemade pesto that makes me a happy camper.  In order to accomplish this, I make a couple dozen batches of this pesto and freeze it in half-cup containers.  That way, all I need to do is defrost one and it’s like I just made it that morning.

I’ve had some people ask me about how I make my pesto, so I thought I would document my pesto-making adventure from this weekend and share it with you.  This really is a fiasco, taking about 5 or 6 hours for me to complete.  That’s including breaks to sit down and eat (my feet and back start hurting after a couple of hours of standing and hovering over the counter).  So without further delay, here it goes.

I start by cutting off the basil plants about a few inches from the soil of the planter.  I like to keep my basil in pots because they fall prey to slugs otherwise.  A few bags from Target serve as ideal carriers and I put all of my bounty in the kitchen sink.

I wish I could describe how much basil is in there, but it’s got to be around 18 or 20 stalks.  It’s just piled up.  Then, I turn on the water and start the laborious process of washing each individual leaf.  Yes, you have to do this because the undersides of the leaves get dirty and can sometimes be covered in little bugs or spiderwebs. 

Can you believe how big some of those leaves are, compared to my hand? 

As I wash the leaves, I pull them off the stalks and then place them on a paper towel by the sink.

As the paper towel fills up, I transfer the basil leaves to a beach towel that I have on my countertop and stovetop.  This picture below represents the full bounty of basil- it’s a TON of basil.

While this process may seem ridiculous, I let the basil leaves dry out as much as possible so I don’t have watery pesto.  It’s a necessary process and a good excuse to eat lunch.  To this point, I have spent an hour and a half working on the leaves.

Then, I measure out the basil and transfer them into these big popcorn tubs.  I have 32 cups of basil this year– tightly packed cups.

Then, I start to gather up my supplies.  If you want crappy pesto, buy it in the store pre-made.  If you want pesto that’s the bomb, make your own.  Be prepared to shell out some serious dough.  Pine nuts are expensive.  I think a small tray of them at Harris Teeter is $9 or something like that.  I got over a pound of pine nuts from Costco for $25.  Eep!  Then, I use a combination of parmiganio reggiano and pecorino romano cheeses.  Again, costly ingredients when you buy them in solid form, but totally worth it.  I can’t remember exactly, but I think the pecorino was around $8 and the parmigano was around $20?

Then, I get a couple of heads of garlic and start peeling.  I think I had around 20 or 30 cloves of garlic ready when I was done.


I use a medium-sized food processor to make my pesto.  It’s not small, but it’s not overly big.  I can fit about six cups of basil in there at a time.

Each batch consists of two cups of basil, three garlic cloves, three tablespoons of pine nuts and about 1/4C of olive oil.  I start out by throwing in the garlic to the processor to chop it up.  Then, I add triple the basil and pine nuts and throw in a few pinches of sea salt.  It takes a while to chop it all down and I have to stop a few times to scrape the sides of the processor…

After it’s chopped up, then I start drizzling in the olive oil while the motor is running.  When it gets to a creamy consistency, then I take out the blade and scrape it into a glass mixing bowl.  Repeat the entire process eight or nine times.  By the end, I’ve made a huge mess, but this is the result….basil baby food.

I know, it’s not the most pleasant looking but it’s about to get better.  I actually ran out of room in that big mixing bowl, so I had to get another one out and filled that one half-full.  I clean up my mess and start working on grating the cheese, about four cups of each.  I try to keep up with my dishes when I do this process because each phase is just as messy as the one before it!  Here’s a shot of how I stage my ingredients.

I’d like to mention that I don’t use as much olive oil as most people would use for a pesto recipe, mainly because this pesto isnt’ going onto pasta or anything like that.  I use about half of what I would normally use so it’s thicker and doesn’t make the pizza all oily and runny.

Then, I start the process of folding in the cheese to the basil baby food mixture.  This is when it really starts smelling good in the kitchen.  It smelled good before, but now I’m licking my hands as I fling pesto all over the countertop!

You’ll notice now I’ve moved the operation into an even BIGGER bowl, which is necessary to be able to combine all of the ingredients appropriately.  This is a huge chip bowl I got from Walmart and does the job perfectly.

Wait, did you see a little owl in the corner of that picture?  It’s a set of vintage salt and pepper shakers!  A hidden Meet My Owl!!!

Now comes the fun task of getting all of this pesto into containers.  I have some screw-top Rubbermaid containers for this pesto, which hold around a cup but I only put in a half of a cup.  I find that too much pesto, believe it or not, can be a bad thing on a pizza.  This time, I’ve made so much pesto that I have to start using some other containers and even need to break out some freezer bags!

In all, this was a 22 batch pesto-making adventure.  Notice how the pesto is a little brown looking?  That’s just the basil oxidizing, which is okay.  It hits the air and turns brown, but when you stir it, it comes back to green.

This all went into the freezer and will be enjoyed once a month or so.  It’s a pain in my behind, but totally worth it.  Note the time on the stove is around 4:40pm- I’ve been at it since at least 11am.

How do I use it on pizza, you ask?  Well, what we like to do is get a thin crust pizza dough and top it with the pesto and part-skim ricotta cheese.  Then, just finish off with your favorite toppings and a little bit of mozzerella to hold it all together.

So there you go.  The annual pesto-making adventure- hope it inspires you to do something amazing with your produce this summer!


4 thoughts on “The annual pesto-making adventure

  1. What an amazing post (and project)! I was hoping to do the same with a bounty from the farmer’s market, so now I have excellent instructions. I’ve always wondered whether the browning mattered when I do homemade pesto too.

    Thanks for sharing! Perhaps next year we can combine efforts 🙂

  2. Anonymous says:

    a pesto-party! sounds delciious and not too hard afterall- just time consuming… perhaps i shall attempt this next year too!

  3. Erin, I think the basil turning is just like avocado turning. It’s a result of the leaves getting bruised and also the air turning it. It’s always done that and stirring it always makes it green again. Whenever I defrost it, it’s always green too.

    Let me know how yours turns out! I’d be down for some basil-sharing next year!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s