18 August 2006

Investment Tip: Go Long on Pesto!

I was somewhat amused to read this story in the Guardian earlier in the week, about the failure of the basil crop in Italy due to excessive hailstorms (though I guess it's no laughing matter for the farmers involved).

I have loved Pesto since I rather belatedly discovered it in the 80's from a recipe book. An interesting fact about me that will no doubt confound many (any?) of the readers out here is that I am a small-scale Pesto producer myself! Our own consumption only of course with the odd distribution to a few friends. But, each year, we plant 12 Basil plants in pots on a South-facing terrace in late May (straight from the supermarket in fact). That immediately goes against two of the "truths" noted in this follow-up (pretentious) Guardian article!

I am usually able to take cuttings at several times throughout the summer (I've already had 3 harvests this warm one), and the quality remains quite good through till September.

Of course, we'd be eating Pesto everynight (perhaps too much even for me) if it wasn't for a discovery I made when visiting the family house of my friend Linda (née Marcheschi) one September to find 3 generations of Marcheschi's in the kitchen (Linda being the youngest, and first generation American) pulling off leaves of basil from a truly humoungous pile of basil cuttings! I wondered how even a large Italian family could get through so much pesto! The secret was, of course, to freeze it. But there is a second - and more important tip dear readers - and that is HOW to freeze it. An ice cube tray (especially those you get in American-style fridges) is PERFECT for creating "units" of pesto. There is one other tip for freezing it - make sure you DON'T add the cheese. It was these discoveries that proved vital for me!

And, so every year, I have multiple manufacturing sessions each turning out about 25-30 individual helpings. Lot's of basil cuttings (you'll figure out a technique for letting the plant continue to thrive - just leave a few leaves at the bottom); pine nuts; lots of garlic; a little salt and pepper and some extra-virgin olive oil. A magimix is vital for mass production and some freezer bags to put the ice cube trays in. I've also been helped this year with the sage purchase by my other half of a garlic peeler (!) and the best garlic crusher I've ever seen (send a comment if you'd like to know more!).

When I/we need a quick meal, it's a matter of cooking the pasta, microwaving a cube (one each) for about 45 seconds, and adding the grated cheese. Maybe it's not quite as good as fresh, but I still love it - and it's better than the supermarket-bought jars. And in the simple ice-cube format, it's so handy in other things too. One cube would make a nice spread for sandwiches for two or three people using goat's cheese on a ciabatta roll or foccacia (or plain bread!). I recently added a cube to a bean and red-onion risotto that certainly enriched it. Or use a cube in a pesto salad dressing.

Thanks Linda for those tips all those years ago. I know you'd be horrified when I grate in a strong cheddar rather than a good parmesan, but sometimes, the cupboard is bare! Please forgive me (and for revealing your technique for the world to see)!

Who says this blog is one-dimensional?

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Unknown said...

Would appreciate more information about your garlic crusher

Ian Hobson said...


This is a better model than the more basic plastic version which will break with time. After a year or more, I still think it's by far the best one I've ever had - and is easy to disassemble and put in the dishwasher too.