What cookbook would you take to the hypothetical desert island? I would have to lug my tome, New Best Recipes, from America’s Test Kitchen. I consult this indispensable volume more than any other of my hundreds of cookbooks. In fact, I just did their zucchini bread recipe in my last post. Their pesto recipe is simply outstanding.
(To my consistent readers, I decided to put Wednesday’s What Would Jessie Dish? on hiatus until after summer, ongoing renovations at the moment, and a trip with my mother to Maine for the upcoming week. The remaining recipes were all very autumnal, and I thought it best to wait and highlight seasonal summer dishes. Sorry, but it will return in just a few weeks!)
ATK is so thorough and creative in testing the many permutations, techniques, and varieties of ingredients to create the ultimate recipes. Sometimes they are a bit fussy, but this is based on their experimentation to produce the best taste, texture, and finished product. One thing I do find is that their recipes tend towards the less hot (spicy) side, so I often will up the heat or add a bit, when I feel like it.
I had made a few recipes for pesto before trying ATK’s, and this one really is best. Toasting garlic and nuts adds a bit of time, but it is worth it to highlight the flavours, creating depth, subtlety, and nuttiness – what more can you ask for in life?
On our island, we have a garlic growing cooperative, and I was able to participate in a couple of sessions (prepping, cultivation, planting, weeding, harvesting), which gave me 40 bulbs of organic Russian hard-neck porcelain garlic – if you really want to know the variety. It was an interesting experience, and I now have quite a bit of garlic for the upcoming colder months.
The basil we have been growing on the deck (it is not deer-proof, though it is supposed to be) has been doing well the past few years, with our southern exposure. Around this time of year, I have plenty of basil – and combined with a bounty of garlic – making pesto for the winter is a good idea. So I tripled the ingredients, and the three batches went along much more quickly than doing each one separately, of course.
For more on storing the classic basil pesto and the recipe…
I like to freeze containers of it, and, though nobody would probably recommend it, I have eaten basil pesto up to one whole year later after freezing it…with no ill effects. Not to mention how great it tastes. For the freezer, you will need to out a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent the pesto from oxidizing (turning brown and icky), as a kind of preservative.
This pesto is rich and full-flavoured, with its strong basil notes holding their own with the powerhouses of garlic and Parmesan. The consistency has a bit of texture, with discernible elements of cheese, herb, and garlic, which make for a satisfying base for pizza, crostini, or sauce for your favourite pasta . Overall, It is a total umami experience at its finest.
Classic Basil Pesto, adapted from The New Best Recipe, America’s Test Kitchen
Enough to serve for four people (or provide sauce for one pound of pasta)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts (which I used), walnuts, or almonds
- 3 medium garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (optional but I use them)
- 7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Freshly grated black pepper, to taste
- A pinch of chili flakes
1.Toast the nuts in a small, heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes – watch closely, as they can burn quickly. Transfer the nuts to a plate.
2. Add the garlic to the empty skillet. Toast, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and the’ color of the cloves deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let the garlic cool, then peel and chop.
3. Combine the basil and parsley (if using) in a heavy-duty gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Pound the bag with the flat side of a meat pounder, or rolling pin until all the leaves are bruised.
4. Place the nuts, garlic, pounded herb(s), oil, pepper, chili flakes, and salt in a food processor. Process until smooth, stopping as necessary to scrape down, the sides of the work bowl. (ATK suggests transferring this to a bowl, then adding the Parmesan, which works, but so does my time- and dish-saving version which follows). Very slowly, pulse in the Parmesan on low, and adjust the salt and pepper, as needed to taste. (The surface of the pesto can be covered with a sheet of plastic wrap or a thin-film of oil and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for many months.)
VARIATIONS – ATK gives you even more options!
Pasta with Mint Pesto
Follow the recipe for Pasta with Classic Pesto, replacing the basil with an equal amount of mint leaves and omitting the parsley.
Pasta with Creamy Basil Pesto
An addition of ricotta cheese makes pesto mild and creamy. The pesto is fairly thick and clings nicely to ridges on fusilli and similar pasta.
Follow the recipe for Classic Pesto, adding ¼ cup ricotta cheese at the same time as the Parmesan. Toss well to combine.
Pasta with Creamy Arugula Pesto
Follow the recipe for Classic Pesto, replacing the basil with 1 cup packed fresh arugula leaves and increasing the parsley to 1 cup packed. reduce the Parmesan cheese to 2 tablespoons and add 1/4 cup ricotta cheese when adding the Parmesan.