We had family in town the last week of August, right when the basil in the garden had reached MONSTROUS heights. I really should have taken a picture of it...but didn't...sorry about that. You will have to use your imagination. This one basil plant had branched out into a bush about 12 feet long, 4 feet high, and about 5 feet deep. It covered at least 1/3 of our entire garden bed. Land sakes alive people!
I decided to enlist the help of my SIL and she helped me pick 2 huge bowls of basil (she later told David she'd never seen basil grown so big before). I've always loved pesto, and having so much basil in the back yard called for major pesto production.
Basil pesto can be used in so many cooking applications. Besides being tossed with hot, freshly cooked pasta, try a dollop in a bowl of soup. Add it to mayo for a great sandwich spread, use it on baguette slices for bruschetta...you can even mix it into mashed potatoes. Yum!
I do think using a good quality cheese, like Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano results in a better tasting pesto than using the regular grated Parmesan you get in the canisters at the grocery store. I know it's more expensive, but you only need 3 tablespoons of cheese per batch of pesto...so a little goes a long way. I also don't add salt or pepper to my pesto--the cheese adds enough of a salty punch, and the spicy basil can hold it's own without any additional pepper.
One more thing...a good food processor is a must for making pesto. I used my big one because I nearly always make multiple batches...but a mini food processor will work if you're making a single recipe.
Bow Tie Pasta with Basil Pesto, Marscapone, and Grilled Chicken
FOR THE PESTO (Makes about 1/3 cup):
2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts, sliced almonds or walnut pieces
2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons grated cheese (pecorino romano or parmigiano-reggiano is preferred)
1/3 cup olive oil
FOR THE REST OF THE DISH:
4 chicken breasts, grilled to your liking
1/3 to 1/2 cup marscapone cheese (found next to the regular cream cheese in your grocery store)
1 pound bow tie pasta, cooked al dente, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce
Additional grated cheese (paremsano, romano, etc.) for garnish if desired
Bring a large pot or deep skillet of water to a boil. You don't need to fill up the whole thing...just enough to submerge the basil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready nearby. Now...I'll bet you're thinking, why are we blanching the basil? (Try saying that 3x fast. ;-)
I've learned if you blanch the basil first, it will help the leaves retain their bright green color. I would always freeze my leftover pesto, and was disappointed when it would turn a muddy greenish-black after it thawed. So I did some research...and now I blanch the basil first. It's a quick, easy step...you'll be glad you did. Plus...any tiny bugs that didn't get washed off will be boiled out of existence.
I was making multiple batches, so you'll see there are more ingredients in the pictures below.
Once your water is boiling, drop in your basil and gently push the leaves under the surface. Turn off the heat, and just let the basil hang out for 30 seconds to 1 minute. All you have to do is essentially wilt it...which takes no time at all.
Use a large slottted spoon or spider strainer to remove the basil to the bowl of ice water. We want to shock the basil so it stops cooking.
After about 5 minutes, drain the basil and gently squeeze it dry. You don't have to get every last bit of water out, but it shouldn't be drippy at all.
Now, in your food processor fitted with the chopping blade, combine the basil, nuts, garlic, and cheese.
Process until everything is in very small bits, about the size of fresh bread crumbs.
With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil through the feeder until you have a thick paste. Some people like their pesto a bit looser...so add more olive oil if you'd like. I like it thicker, and often use only half to 2/3 of the olive oil.
At this point, you can use the pesto right away, or freeze in small containers for future use. Thaw at room temperature before using.
Isn't that PURTY???
The simplest way to use pesto (in my opinion) is to serve it with pasta. I boiled up the bow ties, and immediately tossed it with about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of pesto, the pasta water, and the marscapone cheese. Make sure you do this when the pasta is HOT...this helps distribute all the yummy goodness of pesto and cheese and pasta water together to make the sauce.
Slice up the grilled chicken, and serve with the pasta. Grate some more cheese on top if you'd like.
My SIL and BIL loved this dish...and so did my nephew Ben. I think he had seconds in fact! ;-)
I know some of you have already had fall blow in, but we're still in the low to mid 80's here in south Texas. So go beg, borrow, or steal some basil and make some pesto to enjoy now and in the winter when you're wanting something fresh and green that reminds you of summer's bounty.
God bless your table tonight!