Planning for Pesto
Buying fresh herbs always stresses me out. I feel like they are pretty essential in some dishes and really add a ton of flavor that’s sometimes hard to replicate with dried herbs. There are normally two problems when I buy them though. First, they are incredibly expensive. Most herbs are weeds. Or trees. How is it possible the 3/4 ounce costs $4? This is not an illegal narcotic we’re talking about. It’s rosemary.
Second, once I buy them, they always go bad before I can use all of them! I’ve tried freezing them and drying them and all of that is fine, but I always find myself wanting fresh herbs a week later so I just buy more. It’s a sick cycle.
The one herb that is definitely an exception to this rule is basil. When I find it on sale, I buy as much of it as possible. Take this box of basil that Whole Foods had on sale a few weeks ago.
Now that is a lot of basil! It’s about 4 ounces to be exact. Total cost: $5. Keep in mind that mere feet from where I found this box of basil, you could purchase the very tiny 3/4 ounce of basil for $4. You can do the math people. I’m buying the big box!
Once I got home, I used the tiny amount I needed for a dish, which I think was chicken parmesan. This left me with about 3.8 ounces of basil left. Also known as still a lot of basil.
So, I decided to make a bunch of pesto out of it and freeze it! The pesto maintains its flavor a lot better when frozen than just the raw basil leaves. I think it might have something to do with the oil keeping it fresh.
Let’s make it!
Yield: 1 cup or 8 ice cubes
3 Cups basil, washed and dried.
1/4 Cup olive oil (might need a bit more or less)
1/8 Cup pine nuts
1 garlic clove, crushed
Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Salt and pepper
Food Processor (I have the mini version.)
1) Place all ingredients in food processor and let it spin for a few seconds until all mixed up (when using the mini processor, you may need to do a few batches).
2) Place pesto into ice cube trays (about 2 Tablespoons per cube).
3) Let these freeze solid overnight.
4) Pop the pesto cubes out and store them in a freezer bag. If you have ice cube trays to spare you can keep your pesto in the tray I guess.
5) You can toss them into any warm dish and once they have melted down, you’ll have a very tasty pesto dinner!
Cube up some chicken, brown it in a few tablespoons of olive oil, and then toss in a few cubes of pesto!
Make some pasta and once the chicken is completely cooked through and the pesto melted down and hot, add the pasta to the dish for a super-fast but very flavorful pesto chicken dinner.
Now you could go crazy with this and add roasted red peppers or tons of other things, but I wanted to keep it simple for this version.
Making the pesto
Pesto is pretty straightforward to make. Because I just have a mini food processor, I had to make mine in a few batches. Just try to only add enough olive oil to make the ingredients form a paste. You don’t want it to be too oily.
Give it a spin for a few seconds and it should be all mixed up. I like to leave my pesto with some texture. I want those little chunks of cheese and pine nuts throughout so I never over-process mine. Just a few pulses will do the trick.
Freezing the pesto
Once you have all your pesto made you can add it to ice cube trays! Each of these trays is about 2 tablespoons of pesto which is, very conveniently, about one good serving. So if you’re making dinner for two, use two cubes. If you’re making dinner for two plus enough for leftovers the next day (as I always do), use four cubes!
Let these freeze solid. It’s best to just leave them in overnight. Then you can pop the pesto cubes out and store them in a freezer bag. If you have ice cube trays to spare you can keep your pesto in the tray I guess. I wanted to return my try to its ice-making duties so I stored my cubes in a bag once they were frozen.
The advantages of these pesto cubes should be pretty obvious, but you can basically toss them into any warm dish and once they have melted down, you’ll have a very tasty pesto dinner!
For example, one night I cubed up some chicken, browned it in a few tablespoons of olive oil, and then tossed in a few cubes of pesto!
I also made some pasta and once the chicken was completely cooked through and the pesto melted down and hot, I added the pasta to the dish for a super-fast but very flavorful pesto chicken dinner.
So the final score in battle herb usage is something like
Nick: 1, big-box-of-basil: 0, all other herbs: 23259.
But never mind that! The point is that now you can capitalize on that huge box of basil that might be sitting, unloved, in your supermarket!
Also, I linked to this last Friday, but if you’re looking for a creative way to extend your fresh herbs for a few more days (or weeks?), check out the contraption that Jason made over at Well Done Chef.
Do you freeze anything in ice cubes to use later?