Planning for Pesto


Planning for Pesto

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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.

I'm a sucker for basil sales.
I’m a sucker for basil sales.

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!

Basic Pesto

1 cup or 8 ice cubes
Prep Time:
Total Time:
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Helpful Equipment:

food processor Small food processor

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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


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.

Basic stuff for pesto.
Basic stuff for pesto.

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.

I had to do a few batches...
I had to do a few batches…

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.

Smells good... trust me.
Smells good… trust me.

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!

Future deliciousness.
Future deliciousness.

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.

Artsy shot of the day.
Artsy shot of the day.

Making Dinner

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!

You can add these guys to lots of things.
You can add these guys to lots of things.

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.

Still tastes great!
Still tastes great!

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?

19 Responses to “Planning for Pesto” Leave a comment

  1. @Nick – Thank you for the link back!

    One thing I will caution about freezing pesto is to remove ALL air from the bag. Otherwise, old man frost will come in and ruin your whole day!

    Better still, if you can get your hands on a sous-vide machine, your life will be so much better, as you could sousvide the pesto, and life would be grand!

  2. I also hate buying fresh herbs because that means summer is over and my herb garden has bitten the dust.

    LMAO over the “this isn’t a narcotic” comment.

  3. @Chris: Sounds like you need a window sill garden in the winter.

    My basil recipe looks very similar to this but I add a few kalamata olives and red chili flakes.

    Pesto pasta++

    I think demi-glace is the classic freeze in ice cube tray recipe.

  4. I haven’t tried it yet (I am so lazy), but I have been toying with drying my leftover fresh herbs. Why? Because dried herbs are starting to be worth their weight in gold too (especially anything labeled organic). But I hear ya man!! This stuff costs $$. It is sad to see it go to waste!!

  5. Awesome recipe! I love pesto, and it’s so convenient to freeze it up and use it later. One thought: you might want to consider lining your ice cube tray with plastic wrap first, before placing the pesto in there. I put it directly in the tray once, and even though I cleaned the tray really well, let’s just say the next few batches of ice cubes from that tray had a mysterious pesto-y flavor. ;-)

  6. I freeze extra wine in the trays or chicken broth.
    I’m not a lush (much.) so when I open a bottle of vino, I try to freeze the leftovers for future cooking usage.

    Ditto with a big box or can of chicken broth (or homemade if I feel ambitious), I usually only ever need a cup of broth but I feel guilty spending the same amount of $$ on a can when I can buy a big one, so I splurge and freeze the extras.

    Great idea on homamde pesto, I absolutely love pesto but never use a jar fast enough before it goes bad.

    Thank you!

  7. I can never use a whole can of chipotles at once, so I puree whatever’s left in the food pro, freeze it into cubes, and bag it just like the pesto.

    As rob already said, demi-glace as well!

  8. Good ideas and tips everyone.

    I literally have a can of chipotles that I was trying to figure out how to use (post tomorrow). I’m totally making chipotle cubes tonight.

  9. Hmmm to the posters recommending growing your own herbs inside on in a sunny kitchen window, must not have cats. LOL

    No way could I grow herbs inside. Our Siamese would eat till his hearts content then puke all over my house. EWWWW

    Nick, would your cat leave your herbs alone?

  10. Nicely done: A quick tip for the weight conscious: You can replace 75% of the oil with vegetable broth and just use a few tablespoons of oil and cut the calories way down–

    And basically there is no such thing as too much garlic!

  11. Excellent article! I adore basil and love pesto. I made and froze several batches from the basil in my outdoor garden before the frost was going to kill it off. I freeze it in 1 cup quantities in small plastic storage containers. I pull one container out of the freezer at a time and keep it in the fridge until it is used up….when I know that I have pesto around I will eat it until it is gone!

    Regarding freezing the pesto cubes, I have a Reynolds Handi-Vac that I bought at the grocery store for $10.00 and a box of the special zipper bags that go with it. It works great for removing the air from anything that you want to keep fresh. Just put your stuff in the bag, close the bag and use the little hand-held contraption to suck out all of the air. Easy and inexpensive.

  12. Hi. I don't think I know you but we have some very close mutual friends. I've been reading your blog for a while now, and have finally found time to go back and read some older posts, and stumbled across this one. I love to make pesto, and I think this is a wonderful idea.

    Speaking of freezing things into ice cubes for later, I like to drink old fashioneds, and one thing I do so that I can make them quicker is I like to make my own simple syrup, and then make simple syrup ice cubes so I have them for later.

    Anyway, thanks for the blog. It's really great.

  13. You do know that when you pass through the Pearly Gates it’s going to smell like pesto, don’t you?

    Great food shots!

  14. You are about to be incredibly jealous. A friend of mine grows basil, and I casually remarked that if he was ever looking to get rid of some, he knows where to find me. I, of course, instantly forgot about this conversation. We showed up at the same party this past weekend, and he goes “Shelby, I’ve got your basil out in the car,” and I’m like YES! I figured he would come in with a ziploc bag or two…

    Oh no, my friend.

    This is what he gave me. For free! Needless to say, I have frozen basil leaves, some pesto cubes, and a jar of basil oil sitting on my counter. And this is AFTER we picked some fresh leaves off to send with a friend in Mississippi and use in some dishes all week.

    Also, I’ve read on other websites that it’s best to leave the parmesean out when freezing your pesto, since cheese and extreme cold don’t get along very well. Not sure if you’ve tried it without. :)

  15. Nick, what kinds of side dishes/vegetable side things might go well with this chicken/pasta/pesto dish?

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