Thursday, August 3, 2023

MAKE IT: Perfect Pesto Sauce

fresh basil

When I was young, maybe eight or nine years old, my mom made dinner one evening in the middle of the summer. She served spaghetti to us, with a very odd looking green sauce. She encouraged me to try it, and that was when my love for pesto sauce began. 

My mom has always had a green thumb. Her garden is impressive every year, and her massive pots of basil growing all summer long mean that we will have a bounty of fresh pesto to eat during the summer and freeze for the winter. I can’t explain it… but in the middle of February when there is endless snow, defrosting a batch of summer pesto is a sure fire way to pull you out of the winter blues – even if it’s just for one meal.

I will say though, as much as I have loved pesto sauce for most of my life, I think the recipe my mom follows is the best. And we have to give credit where credit is due, her recipe was a hand me down from my Aunt Debbie, my mom’s sister in law – who received the recipe from a little Italian restaurant in Clifton Park NY. (Where it came from before that, is beyond me!)

Now I share it with all of you!

Blender Pesto
2 cups fresh basil
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife
1 tsp (or less) salt
1/2 cup olive oil

Blend all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor.
If you want to make pesto to freeze, remove your mix and freeze in a glass jar or our favorite, Ziploc bags.

If you’re ready for pesto NOW…
Take your mixture and place it in a bowl.

Add in:
2 tbsp softened butter (not melted in the microwave)
¼ cup grated romano
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Mix well!

If you will be serving your pesto over pasta, it’s a good idea to add ~ 2 tbsp boiling pasta water to your mixture. Mom tells me this helps it stick to the pasta better!

Me, harvesting basil!

There was a time many years ago when my mom did not have such a plethora of basil in her garden. She added parsley to the pesto mix without me knowing. However… my tastebuds are pretty well tuned to her sauce and I demanded to know what she did to it! She never pulled that stunt again. Pesto translates loosely, “to crush”, and basil is the usual herb that gets crushed. You can do what you want with your recipe. We don’t ever add pine nuts, but you certainly can!

When we make pesto, it’s usually served over linguine with grilled chicken, a small salad of tomatoes and onions, a generous glass of wine, sitting on my mom’s patio watching the flowers grow.  If I’m lucky and she sends me home with leftover sauce, I’ll add it to an omelet, or spread on toasted bread with melted cheese and some fresh tomatoes.
It makes me happy. 


Summer is the perfect time to enjoy simple pleasures and when the basil is bursting out of the pots, count your blessings and get the blender out!

Photo at top: Summer 2023 basil supply – so far! Photo courtesy of Vicky Benjamin.

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Sarah lives in the northern ADK's with her husband, 2 daughters, sled dogs and 15+ chickens. She is an aspiring children's book author, and professional Tarot advisor. She wears many hats working with The Adirondack Explorer, and she loves them all.

3 Responses

  1. laura bellinger says:

    I had some leftover green tomatoes last year. I made pesto with them and it was amazing!

  2. ADKresident says:

    I have never made or had pesto without pine nuts.
    This looks so simple to make; I think I shall try it!
    TY for sharing!

  3. mara jayne miller says:

    Hi, pesto lover,

    I believe your Aunt Debbie took the recipe from Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cook Book”, (New York, N.Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.) originally published in 1976 and reprinted at least nine times, which printing in 1979 is the one I have, and the recipe — same title, “Blender Pesto”, is on pp. 140-141. and almost the exact wording as in your recipe, of ” 2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with a heavy knife handle and peeled” Every Italian cook or chef I know relies on Hazan’s classic Genoese recipe, and then in some cases, adapts it slightly to her or his family’s or customers’, respectively, dietary or allergy-related needs. That your Aunt omitted the 2 Tablespoons of pine nuts I find interesting, as that would be either because she researched the history of the recipe and learned that centuries ago, there were no pine nuts available and so they were not used in making pesto or because members of her family, like many people today, had nut allergies. Ms. Hazan’s recipe and all others that I have seen in print or in restaurants in Italy or the U.S. do include pine nuts. The only other change your Aunt made in Hazan’s recipe is using 2 Tablespoons, rather than 3, of butter in the final preparation of the sauce, a change that many now make, along with sometimes reducing the total amount of cheese (but only slightly) used in the final prep. Marcella Hazan also includes some wonderful advisory notes, my favorite on the usage of the basil leaves, as she observes that American basil leaves vary greatly in sizes. “For the sake of accurate measurement, I suggest that you tear all but the tiniest leaves into two or more small pieces. Be gentle, so as not to crush the basil. This would discolor it and waste the first, fresh droplets of juices.” fyi, the Genoese used and even today use pesto not only on pasta but also as an addition to their soups, particularly minestrone. They were smart. And so was Marcella Hazan, (who died ten years ago). Her book, this being the first and immediately widely used one, is difficult to find now. But Amazon does seem to have access to small numbers of it, one right now available for $139! It is truly a classic. All four generations of my family, love and use her recipe, adapting the cheese and butter proportions to their taste and to the seasons. Enjoy!

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