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.

{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Abby October 10, 2011 at 8:30 am

My theory has always been that you could put pesto on a shingle and it would be delicious, so power to the pesto!


Erica@PLRH October 10, 2011 at 9:10 am

I love basil but usually shy away from pesto because I don’t care for the flavor of pine nuts. I never thought of trying pistachios. Duh!


Salad in a Jar October 10, 2011 at 9:17 am

My basil has gone crazy also. Have never tried pistachios in my pesto before but why not?


Kristen @ Motherese October 10, 2011 at 10:52 am

Basil insanity here too. What’s up with the basil this year?

I just ate lunch, but that tomato salad is making my mouth water.

Question: if you’re going to freeze your pesto, do you add the Parm before you freeze or right before you’re going to use it?


TKW October 10, 2011 at 3:57 pm


After you thaw it is best, but it’ll be okay no matter what.


Jenna October 10, 2011 at 11:22 am

I wish there were a way for you to ship your excess basil to me–I would gladly take some of it off your hands (though now that it’s winding down I doubt you want to share). Anyway, next summer I want to become more of a pesto-making person.


Stacia October 10, 2011 at 11:24 am

Can’t type. Drooling.


unicorn October 10, 2011 at 11:40 am


That is all.

Everything is right with the world.


Jennifer October 10, 2011 at 12:18 pm

I need to plant herbs.


bryan October 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

I just LOVE pesto. I still haven’t had much success planting basil, luckily the store I shop at almost always has it super cheap. As for going gangster I still have enough with my stupid mint. I have taken to pruning it with the lawn mower in an effort to keep it from taking over the entire back yard.


BigLittleWolf October 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Can’t say I ever smelled an Italian whorehouse… But now you have me pining to do just that.



Heather @girlichef October 10, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Oooohhhh…. how badly do I wish my backyard smelled like an Italian whorehouse? Sigh. This is so summer, I love it. Don’t you dare say that nasty four letter s word yet. NO!


velva October 10, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Dang! That looks good. Surprisingly my basil did well this year too. I struggle with basil each year. I planted mint way in my backyard ( need a steady supply of mojitos in the summer). For 2-years it was mint nuts! Then, it was gone (ugh).

Enjoy your basil before the cool air sets in for the long haul.



Heather October 10, 2011 at 7:49 pm

So that’s where all my basil went this year!!! I have 2 lonely little sprigs in my garden – very, very sad :(

Gotta say that I’ve never thought of using pistachios in pesto but I’m all about it now! I’ve never met a pistachio I didn’t like!!!


kristin @ going country October 11, 2011 at 3:21 am

My last batch of pesto was made and frozen a few weeks ago. The plants haven’t recovered from their pruning then, so I think that’s it for the basil. I use walnuts for pesto, because with the amount of pesto I make in a season, traditional pine nuts would bankrupt me.


TKW October 11, 2011 at 6:45 am


I know, right? Pine nuts are so expensive–what’s the deal, I wonder?


kristin @ going country October 11, 2011 at 7:03 am

My guess is tiny, hard-to-extract nuts=high processing costs passed along to the consumer. Walnuts (or almonds, for that matter, which I also sometimes use for pesto depending on what’s in the house) are easier to shell with a lot more meat in them, so they cost less to get from tree to shelf. Also, walnuts and almonds are widely cultivated mass products–there are acres and acres of the orchards in California alone– but I’m not aware of a whole lot of huge groves of pine trees grown specifically for their nuts.

Maybe I overthought that? Probably. Such are the things that entertain me.


TKW October 12, 2011 at 1:51 am

I don’t mind your overthinking at all. Because I just wonder about these sort of things and never bother to investigate. Lazy slobs like me love readers like you, who actually try to figure things out.


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes October 11, 2011 at 4:51 am

And now I’m crying because the cat (yes the cat!) ate the last of the basil…


TKW October 11, 2011 at 6:46 am


You have a basil-eating cat? It must be Italian :)


Biz October 11, 2011 at 8:42 am

Why the hell didn’t I think of using pistachios for pesto! Love it that you’ll make the hot as balls version of my chili – another reason I like you – your love of hot shit like me! :D


Foodiewife October 11, 2011 at 10:37 am

Italian whorehouse?! LMAO! You got it right. One cannot O.D. on basil. My husband was a self-proclaimed pesto hater. Ha! Now that I’ve introduced him to my own versions, and I sneaked (snucked??) it into lots of meals that he loved– and I sprang that “there’s pesto in it” wild card… I’m always looking for new pesto ideas. Pistachios, really? Now, what can I sneak it into next?


TKW October 12, 2011 at 1:52 am


My Daddy (your second husband) votes for schnitzel.


Cathy October 11, 2011 at 11:10 am

There is nothing better than beautiful summer-ripened tomatoes and fresh basil, a bit of balsamic and some fresh mozz. It’s so funny – my son (teen) has decided that he loves, loves, loves pesto and he’s bankrupting me (for I haven’t made any pesto recently and instead buying the nice expensive Italian version from the grocer.) Feel free to ship out. Address provided upon request.


Jane October 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Your stepson hates basil like my daughter hates cilantro. What is wrong with our youth today?


TKW October 12, 2011 at 1:54 am


SO many people hate cilantro. It actually tastes like soap to some people. My Daddy is one of the haters, too. I think it’s because you cannot pickle it, which offends his German sensibilities. :)


Dana October 11, 2011 at 7:32 pm

I wish my basil had gone slightly more gangster, mine would sprout and then wither. All summer. :( I think there was a problem with the seed.


theUngourmet October 11, 2011 at 8:18 pm

I had to grow my basil in a pot on my back patio this year…no space for a garden at my new place. I am sad to say I was so busy with work that I only remembered to grab a few leaves a couple of times. So lame, I know. Your pesto looks crazy good!


Privilege of Parenting October 11, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Well, at least now I know what was missing in my last soup season—and it wasn’t basil.


Trishia October 11, 2011 at 10:36 pm

It really looks so yummy! thanks for this post..


Christine October 12, 2011 at 4:08 am

Pesto of ANY KIND is the nectar of the Gods. Almost as good as feta. Almost. This makes me wonder why I don’t have an herb garden.


Dawn October 12, 2011 at 8:46 am

You have SNOW??? Out of all that what I focused on is…you have SNOW?? NOooooooo!


Tiffany October 12, 2011 at 9:36 am

Please tell me how to get basil to grow! Mine is always so pathetic…and I love it so much.


elizabeth October 13, 2011 at 7:49 am

I am a huge fan of the pistachio pesto–we’ll do a mix of herbs with them, or the traditional basil. They are among the healthiest nuts out there–lowest in fat (naturally) and high in nutrients–score! And M doesn’t care much for pine nuts (either the price or the taste) so pistachios are considerably cheaper.


Wella M. October 17, 2011 at 8:09 am

oh gosh! that is mouth watering…love it!


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