pesto fest! (garlicky green ice cubes)

pesto-cubesTHE LATEST HEATWAVE FORCED THE BASIL into flower, so before things go too far: pesto. Apparently, it’s in the air. My friend Deb Puchalla of Everyday Food magazine and the Dinner Tonight blog was about to make a batch, she said the other day…and then a second later, we both thought: Hey, let’s collaborate. Let’s talk pesto with our garden- and food-blog friends. Let’s have a Digital Pesto Fest. Care to join in?

I cook by feel, and my recipe books don’t get off the shelf much. With pesto, in particular, it’s all “to taste” in my kitchen, and to texture: Too little oil, and the blender or Cuisinart can’t process it; too much, and it won’t really freeze nicely. For me, freezing’s the main point. I don’t want to OD on pesto in high summer, but want a steady supply year-round.

I make a lot of pizza, crust and all, and I smear the unbaked crusts with olive oil, my pesto, and roasted garlic before I layer on homemade tomato sauce (stored frozen beside the pesto) and the cheeses.

An “ice cube” or two of defrosted pesto also makes a welcome spread on baguette or crackers with olives and cheese and other snacking things, when guests stop by. Nothing’s easier as a seasoning when making minestrone or pasta e fagioli, than to drop a cube into the bubbling broth (or garnish each serving with a teaspoonful).

My ingredients never vary: basil, peeled garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, grated parmesan and pine nuts, combined to taste and feel (usually in the blender). I like to go heavy on the garlic, but maybe you don’t. Substitute walnuts for pine nuts, and so on. There is dispute about whether to put the nuts and cheese in now, then freeze, or add them at the time of use. For me, the answer’s easy: I’d never use the pesto if I had to process it again, so I risk slight deterioration in flavor and add them now.

If you want real recipes, to avoid the worry of my kind of guesswork, Deb and Everyday Food have them. Tell them Margaret sent you. I think it’s the smartest food magazine there is. Its mission is simple: great food fast. What’s not to like about that?

Kathy Purdy at Cold Climate Gardening has a recipe, too. It was Kathy who got me and Deb really going in this direction the other day when she innocently “said” on Twitter that her kids had just made more than 6 cups of pesto from basil she’d grown. (Don’t know Twitter? Come and find me, and see what it’s about.) Apparently the Purdys use New York Times writer Jane Brody’s recipe, which you can find on Kathy’s blog (along with a vintage Kathy essay about, you guessed it, her family pesto ritual, at basil-harvest time).

Or maybe you don’t have basil at all and instead want to make a pesto from cilantro or spinach. Maybe garlic scapes (thanks to Kitchen Gardeners) or walnuts and sage (thanks to Gayla Trail at You Grow Girl) or even pistachio nuts with basil (like Leslie Land has shared in summers past).

Another tip: I hate buying parsley in the offseason, so to have the fresh flavor on hand I make a looser-than-pesto slurry of leaves with a bit of water and freeze that as cubes, too. Or you could make a parsley pesto, with garlic and oil and all the other ingredients.

Now, about the freezing: I have several plastic ice-cube trays reserved for this use only, sparing me garlic-flavored cubes the rest of the year. I spoon the thick pesto mix (or the slightly looser parsley slurry) into cubes, then freeze a few hours, and knock the individual green ice cubes out into double freezer bags to keep them from burning effects. Freezing large containers makes no sense, as once defrosted, it doesn’t keep. If I were serving multiple portions of pasta with pesto, I’d do some 4-ounce containers, along with my cubes.

It’s time to sow another row of basil seeds, by the way, so that when your fall-ripening tomatoes come in, you’ll have a crop of fresh, tender leaves to mix them with…and to make more pesto from.

Please feel free to share your recipes, or links to blogs both horticultural and culinary where you have found good ones. And join us on Twitter, too, so that next time Kathy gets me and Deb and the rest of us all talking, you’ll be right there, ready to chime in, too. After all, it’s supposed to be a Digital Pesto Fest, isn’t it?

  1. I think I have now trimmed all I can trim off the basil plants.. and yesterday afternoon I was a pesto cube makin’ fool! Thanks for the inspiration! Nothing like poppin’ pesto when the weather turns cold.

    I second the motion of missing Kerry. BIG TIME.

    Good news.. huge buds on the dahlia plants! Can’t wait!

  2. margaret says:

    Welcome, Napa Farmhouse 1885. So glad to have your reminder about the lemon-pistachio combination. Truly wonderful. Come again soon.

  3. thanks for the fest idea…you inspired me to spend the day making and freezing pesto…both from your blog and your twitter comments (i follow you) i always use pine nuts..but think i will try a walnut version too. i have a meyer lemon tree that produces tons of fruit in winter, so i often make a martha inspired pesto recipe which calls for meyer lemons..peel and all.. and pistachios…yum
    think your pesto pizza idea is calling for dinner tonight!

  4. margaret says:

    Welcome, Kathryn. Arugula is often overlooked as a cooking ingredient and thought of as just “salad stuff,” but you are right. Makes a good pesto, or can be served lightly sauteed w/garlic and then tossed into pasta and so mnay other delicious ways. Come again soon.

  5. margaret says:

    @Ms. Arrow: Obviously you and the whole gardening crew you work with are OUT OF CONTROL. (But I might send along some pesto for your cocktail hours anyhow.)

  6. bluearrow says:

    but there is free wine thirty at WH…w/vegetarian pate –
    your pesto would have been a welcomed addition/treat!

  7. margaret says:

    Welcome, Jennifer (and to your young protege as well). Swamp Soup? I have to get me some. Now you are sending me searching the www for it….

  8. Hi, just found your site, super. I did a recent post on gardening with my 5 year old. Her favorite is basil, we whirl it with o.o. and freeze it flat in bags. I pinch a corner and add to her soups (especially swamp soup from my book)
    I love letting her putter in the garden. Thanks for the nice post.

  9. margaret says:

    Yes! Katlia, we are planning to do a food day every Thursday like we did w/pesto last week, with Tomatoes set for 8/14. Tomorrow I’ll post the how-to of participating in this series of cross-blog “food fests” and what’s up what week. Meantime, is yours a tomato emergency–all ripe already?

  10. katlia says:

    I also made and froze a bunch of pesto this weekend. However, the idea of freezing chopped basicl, cilantro and chives is new to me: thanks laura.

    Now… about tomatoes…. canning recipes, please?

  11. Marian Faux says:

    My husband is senstive to basil, so I “cooked” up another kind of pesto. It’s flat leaf parsley, almonds,olie oil, and the remaining suspects. Good on pasta and green beans.. so far.

  12. starr cunningham says:

    when my basil goes to flower it starts not to taste right, sort of bitter. first question, is it real or imagined and then if real is it poor soil or not enough water or worse, neglect. i know ive strayed from the topic. the basil cubes are a winner. thanks

  13. dianne dolan says:

    I used to do that, but now I cover a cookie sheet wax paper and just heap spoonfuls on and put in freezer. In a couple of hours, I just toss in a freezer bag and make more.

  14. vanessa says:

    OD on pesto? That’s one I’ve never heard before. (: It’s probably one of the least harmful OD there are! Thank for your ideas. My cilantro pesto is made and waiting to be eaten (:

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