It’s that time of year when basil plants are at their fragrant peak and visions of pasta ribbons festooned with pesto start dancing before our eyes. Our family loves pesto, and Spaghetti with Pesto and Shrimp is a go-to mid-week meal. It’s dead simple and really requires no recipe. Simply cook sufficient pasta for however many you are feeding (3-4 oz per person). A few minutes before the pasta is done, drop frozen, peeled shrimp (about 6 of the 21/30 per pound size per person) into the boiling pasta water. When the pasta is done, drain it and shrimp and toss the mix with a cube of pesto, one per person. Add olive oil and parmesan to taste. Voila. Ten minute meal.
Tempting as it might be to let them linger in the garden just a little while longer, basil plants need to be attended to promptly, before they get brown spots and nasty bugs (says she, who has spent many an afternoon picking small bits of brown off hundreds of basil leaves left to languish a shade too long. Sigh…)
My son-in-law, Mike, brought three-year old Hannah over one morning for a communal pesto session. They had several bunches of basil, and Hannah happily worked away, chattering enthusiastically as she tore off leaves from her basil stems and dropped them in a bowl. The time consuming part of this whole recipe is picking the leaves from the plants, which seems to take forever when you’re doing in it on your own, but it’s fun as a group effort.
I have always followed a rough rule of proportions with pesto, but this time I wanted to measure things out so the kids had a reliable recipe. The first order of business was weighing how much basil went into the food processor to be chopped up before we added the oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese. I added and chopped, added and chopped until the food processor held a reasonable quantity. It turns out that’s about 300 g of washed and spun-dry basil. Then it was time to add the other ingredients, which we weighed and added in increments until everything tasted as it should.
We freeze it in ice cube trays, and I work under the premise that neither parmesan cheese or olive oil improve with freezing, so I use just enough to bind the basil together. Adjust the final product when you use it, adding as much parmesan cheese and olive oil as you see fit. It gets the full quota of pine nuts and garlic at the time of making, though, as they need to be zipped in the food processor. We also tend to under season it, so salt to taste, too.
- 300 g fresh basil
- 200 g pine nuts
- 100 g parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp (15 ml) minced garlic
- 2 tsp (10 g) kosher salt
- 1/3 c (70 ml) good quality extra-virgin olive oil
- Thoroughly wash and spin-dry the leaves before weighing them.
- Add about 1/3 of the basil to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Add another third and repeat. Add the pine nuts, parmesan cheese, garlic and salt and pulse until combined. Add the final third of basil, and drizzling the olive oil through the spout, pulse until the entire mixture is finely and thoroughly chopped.
- Using a spatula, scrape the basil into an ice-cube tray, smoothing as you go. Once all the basil is in the tray, push a knife down each side of each cube to release any air pockets and smooth again with the spatula.
- Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight.
- Once completely frozen, dip the outside of the ice cube tray into hot water to release the pesto cubes. Pop them out and transfer them to a large ziplock bag before returning them to the freezer. You'll need to work quickly as they defrost really easily.
- I work under the premise that neither parmesan cheese or olive oil improve by freezing, and thus use just enough to bind the basil together. Add as much parmesan cheese and olive oil as you see fit when you use it. It's also light on salt, as you can always add, but can't subtract, so season at will!
- This recipe makes one full ice cube tray, or 12 cubes.