Basil and Pistachio Pesto, Gangster Style

October 10, 2011

In all honesty, I don’t know why my basil decided to go hog-wild this year, but dang!  That stuff is bustin’.

Everyone talks about the insidious nature of mint, how it creeps into your garden by degrees and then Bam! it goes gangster on you, strangling all of the other herbs and letting them know who’s boss.

I learned last summer to jail my mint in a separate container, but after this summer, I’m thinking that basil might need solitary confinement, too.  Basil ate my garden this year. Basil bullied the rosemary, the mint, the chives and the parsley incessantly, until they turned tail and got the heck outta there.

Luckily, I love basil. Maybe not the Capone-style kind of basil I had this year, because I do miss my parsley and chives, but in general, basil is my go-to summer herb.  When it’s running flush, I toss it into just about everything: omelets, salads, sandwiches, burgers.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s hard to O.D. on basil.

Awesome Stepkid R., however, begs to differ.  The first spring after hubs and I married, I planted a garden in our small yard.  One summer day, as I was rinsing a sinkful of freshly picked basil, Awesome Stepkid R. (then 7 years old) wandered into the kitchen in search of a snack.

He took one step into the room and recoiled. “Aggggg!” he howled, horrified. “What is that smell? Aggg, what is that smell? Aggg, I can’t stand it!”

He then hurled himself out of the room, into the den, where he proceeded to fake-retch on the carpet and writhe in agony.

Eleven years later, Awesome Stepkid R. can face a few shreds of basil without the theatrics, but I love to remind him of the Basil-Induced Seizure.

Basil-haters had better avoid my back yard this year, because it’s an olfactory assault out there. My whole yard smells like an Italian whorehouse.  I love it.

A prolific basil crop begs for pesto making.  There’s no more efficient way to deal with renegade basil than to whizz it in a food processor with some good olive oil and nuts and Parmesan.  Pesto is easy to make, freezes well, and can be used in a number of ways.

You can spread pesto on toasted baguette, toss with hot pasta, swirl into soups, drizzle on grilled meats, use as a base for pizza. What’s not to like about something that versatile?

I made a huge batch of pesto last week, and froze half of it for a winter day when I’m snowed in and cursing my fate. The other half, I used two ways.

I slathered it on grilled bread, topped it with some fontina cheese, popped it under the broiler until it turned all melty and delightful, and scattered some tomatoes (and bacon, naturally) over the whole business.  It made a lovely lunch.  I also thinned some of the pesto with a little champagne vinegar, smeared it on a plate, and made quick use of the last good tomatoes I’ll see in a while. I’m a little bitter that Insalate Caprese days are winding down.

However you use it, I’d encourage you to grab that renegade basil while you still can. I figure that I’ve got one more week of  basil-love before winter sinks it’s hoary talons into my garden. We had a few sprinkles of snow this past weekend, and I know a hard freeze cannot be far behind. *sob*

Okay. Enough feeling sorry for myself. I’m going to put on my big girl undies and embrace soup season. And I promise not to bitch for at least a week. As if.

Basil and Pistachio Pesto, Gangster Style

makes two cups


4 cups basil leaves, washed, dried and loosely packed

2-3 garlic cloves, crushed

1/2 cup shelled pistachios, lightly toasted

1 teaspoon lemon zest

3 tablespoons lemon juice

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine basil leaves, garlic, pistachios, lemon zest, lemon juice and half of the olive oil. Pulse in the food processor, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl. In a thin stream, gradually add the rest of the olive oil while the processor is running, adding more oil if you prefer a thinner consistency. Stir in the cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freeze.

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