Having pesto around is a great way to brighten up a chicken sandwich or bowl of vegetable soup. It can be put with any number vegetables or meats for something a little different. Traditional pasta with pesto sauce makes for a quick lunch alternative or dinner side dish.
While buying basil to make pesto can be expensive, growing basil is exceedingly easy if you have a little sun in your garden. You can even add a few plants to a flower bed that gets a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight a day. The plants are attractive and bothered by few pests.
Growing them can be as easy as throwing out a few seeds in the spring after the ground has warmed up (it does not like cold weather) or buying a few plants at a garden center. Most bought plants actually have more than one plant in the pot and can be gently separated to create more plants.
Harvesting the basil and making the pesto is a bit of a production, but makes for a fun once or twice a year activity that will give you enough pesto to last you the rest of the year. It freezes nicely in ice cube trays, although the color will darken a bit.
To harvest, cut the tops off the plants. Leave at least a few inches of stem for the plants to re-grow for a second or third harvest. This is best done before the plants start to bloom much. Next, pull all the leaves off of the harvested stems being sure not to include any flower buds as they can make the pesto bitter. Wash and spin dry in a salad spinner.
For large amounts of basil it is best to make the pesto in batches in a food processor. For each food processor bowl full of basil leaves (they can be packed fairly tightly) add ¼ cup pine nuts or almonds, ¼ cup olive oil, and 1 crushed garlic clove. Process until smooth, scrapping down the sides of the bowl and adding more olive oil if necessary. Put all the batches together in a bowl and stir for a more consistent flavor.
If you are going to freeze it do not add parmesan or salt at this time. Put the pesto in ice cube trays and freeze. When frozen you can transfer the hardened cubes to plastic bags (the vacuum seal bags work great).
When you are ready to use the pesto, defrost it (If using the microwave be careful not to cook it) and add ¼ c or more of finely grated Parmesan per 2 cubes, which is enough for ½ pound of pasta. Correct the salt. If you like a thinner pesto sauce, add more olive oil.