It got cold in New York last week and I had to conceed that autumn really is here. I took all my sweaters out of storage, turned the heat on, and clipped all the lemon verbena from the box on the deck to dry it out for tea in winter (feeling very DIY right now...).
And a friend of mine with a very, very large and hearty outdoor basil plant decided it was time to slaughter it before the weather did first. Since I seem to be something of a halfway house for wayward, uprooted foods, she brought this mass of basil here, to me. Why? To make pesto, of course.
I hauled out my tried-and-true pesto recipe, doubled it, and added a cup of parm—which was left out originally for my non-cheese eating husband. As with anything that has so few ingredients, the number one “trick” is to use the best. Of everything. For pesto, that means really fresh basil and the best olive oil you have. It also means high-quality pine nuts (never, EVER buy pine nuts from China) that have been well toasted until they’re fragrant and golden. Some real Parmigiano-Reggiano, and some super-sticky fresh garlic (garlic is soooo good right now) and you’re off to the races.
And here’s where the Kitchen Hip Tip comes in: freeze it! Freeze that glorious, green, assertively warm-weather goodness for a chilly night in February. Pesto freezes marvelously. And I love to freeze it in ice-cube trays (like I do homemade concentrated stocks, tomato paste, compound butters, etc.) so that I have little bricks ready whenever I need just a touch of something bright or deep. Spoon your ingredient X into your trays, cover with plastic wrap, and then, ideally, pop them out once they're frozen, wrap them, and label them...you know...when you're feeling industrious.
Pesto is fabulous dotted over the top of soups, smeared into sandwiches, or spooned over a blistering-hot steak. I love these silicone trays that the fantastic Jim Meehan introduced me to; they make gorgeous ice cubes, but they’re also incredibly handy for freezing other things. (Maybe buy red ones for ice, blue for everything else?) They hold a perfect two tablespoon’s worth. Brilliant…just like the flavor of basil in winter.
Indian Summer Pesto for Freezing
10 cups basil leaves, packed
1 1/2 cups good extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano
5 to 6 large garlic cloves
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Into the food processor, add first five ingredients and pulse until a coarse puree forms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.