Envision that first January freeze when you’re reaching for the phone for carryout pizza. Now picture this: You’re reaching, instead, into the freezer to thaw some savory September pesto “cubes” to complement your pasta dinnner! Most years I can carve out time to preserve the season’s bounty in Bell jars. Not this year. I plan to rely on quick fixes and freezer space for “putting up” September’s bounty. One quick fix is preparing and freezing pesto in ice cube trays.
Traditionally pesto is made with a mortar and pestle. The word “pesto” is derived from the Italian “pestare,” a verb that means to pound or crush. I fully realize I am treading on sacred ground when writing that in today’s culinary nomenclature there is no rubber stamp guideline for making fresh pesto. If you’ve a Ligurian Italian grandmother, forgive my blasphemy. Yet I remain true to this edict: All bets are off with today’s definition of pesto. Part of the liberating glory of this lovely herbal sauce is letting your own palate, garden, market and pantry be your guide.
Is fresh dill overrunning your garden? Try tossing angel hair pasta with a lemony almond-dill pesto. Are you looking for a side dish to enhance an Asian preparation of salmon? Soba noodles with a wasabi-cilantro pesto would be perfect. A Guiliano Bugialli Sicilian pesto recipe combines tomatoes, almonds, garlic, basil, parsley and mint -sublime!
However, my sacred trinity of pesto will never vary. I only use freshly harvested herbs; my choice of cheese is Parmigianno Reggiano (meaning that cow that supplied that milk for that cheese did not step one hoof out of the Emilia-Romagna countryside); and I use the best quality extra virgin olive oil my purse will allow. (Oops – with the cilantro wasabi pesto I use a combination of oils. When will I learn never to make a sacred, definitive, declaration of any sort?!)
My most frequented recipe, however, returns to classic basil pesto. I’m making a large batch, so to save time, I’m using my food processor. When making a small batch, I finely hand chop all of the ingredients with a sharp knife. The individual flavor profile of each delicious element is more pronounced plus I don’t have to clean my processor. I also toast my garlic and pine nuts for a few minutes. I prefer the mellow flavor of the garlic and rich flavor of the pine nuts in pesto when they are both lightly toasted.
If you haven’t been to the Farmers Market this summer, the volumes of fresh basil on the stalls should be enough enticement for you to make your own pesto. For $4, I gathered enough basil to put up about 2 1/2 packed cups of pesto. I made extra to use this winter by freezing it in ice cube trays. When I want add a pesto kick to pasta, soups or sauces, I thaw a frozen cube or two and use in the desired recipe.