Having pesto on hand in the freezer is a beautiful thing when you get a hankering to dress pasta, enliven soup, or sauce meats with bold flavours and bright colours. Basil pesto is classic, but I’ve also made sun-dried tomato and parsley pesto, a quick kale pesto with walnuts, and back in the days before blogging, the traditional basil pesto with pine nuts (expensive, those little things!). This basil pesto with almonds and garlic is a riff on that classic.
As you can see, pesto is quite versatile. You can start with just about any kind of green, add some type of nut, and add other flavourings like sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and so on. I always make mine with extra virgin olive oil, just enough to loosen the mixture up but not enough that it becomes runny. And cheese … even though I didn’t use it here. Despite the fact that one of the reasons I made this batch was to use up the last bit of grated parmesan … I forgot. Parmesan cheese is a classic, but why not play around with that too? Or skip it altogether (on purpose or accidentally).
Another benefit of pesto is that you can make it in big batches and freeze it. For this small batch, I used a 1-tablespoon sized scoop to measure mounds onto a tray lined with waxed paper (parchment or a silicone mat would do, too). Once frozen, I transferred the gloriously green nuggets to a bag labelled with the date. Next time I need some pesto, there it is, ready to go!
Recently, I happened to have a big pot of basil on the balcony that needed to be used up; I was about to leave on a trip, and knew it wouldn’t survive my absence. So, that’s what inspired this pesto (along with that cheese I forgot to use). I left the next day with the satisfaction of knowing that otherwise doomed basil had been put to good use.
Making pesto is a great way to keep greens from going to waste, and instead put them to good taste. I know that when I use this in pasta sauce next winter, for a few minutes it will be summer again in my kitchen.
Basil Pesto with Almonds and Garlic
© Marlene Cornelis, Urban Cottage Life 2017
Even apartment dwellers can grow copious amounts of basil on their balconies, making it possible to whip up enough of this pesto to see you through the winter. Confession time: I buy a big pot of basil from my local market, and snip what I need throughout the summer. If I’m going to be away, I harvest it all for pesto, and then look for another pot for the balcony when I return. Not exactly gardening, but it works for me!
- 1/4 cup slivered almonds
- 4 cups loosely packed basil leaves
- 2 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 2 pinches salt
- a good grinding of fresh black pepper (see note, below)
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff!)
Start by lightly toasting the almonds in a small, dry skillet over medium high heat. Watch them closely, shaking the pan and flipping the almonds around. As soon as they start to turn golden and you smell that warm, nutty aroma, remove the pan from the heat. I slide the almonds onto a plate so the residual heat in the pan doesn’t scorch them. Set them aside to cool while assembling the rest of the ingredients.
Add the basil, garlic, salt and pepper to the bowl of a mini food processor. Pulse a few times, to begin the process of breaking the ingredients down. Add the almonds and olive oil and continue to pulse, scraping the bowl from time to time. Once the mixture starts to come together, you can let the machine run continuously. If necessary, add more olive oil to achieve a loose but not runny consistency.
A note about the pepper: I like a lot of pepper, and I often don’t measure it since using the pepper mill is one of the most fun things about cooking. I can’t tell you what a challenge it is for me to grind pepper into a separate dish and then measure it out for purposes of recipe writing, instead of grinding like a mad woman right onto the food I’m making! For this recipe, I suggest you start by adding 1/4 teaspoon or 5 or 6 grinds of your pepper mill. Once the pesto begins to come together, taste it to see if you need to add more pepper and/or salt. Of course, if you don’t like pepper as much as I do, just start with a good pinch and take it from there.
Once the pesto has come together, you can measure it out by the tablespoon, as I did, or use ice cube trays to freeze it. I don’t own any ice cube trays, but I wouldn’t use plastic ones because the highly aromatic pesto fragrance would probably be hard to get out. Once the pesto is frozen, store it in a sealed bag or other storage container and freeze. I’ve seen differing information about how long it will keep in the freezer, from about 3 months to a year. I’ve certainly used year-old frozen pesto in the past and it was fine.