Let me backtrack. I’ve headed north to the coast for a late summer visit home and it’s clear that summer is slowly wrapping itself up – I’m sorry I had to say it. I only just learned this myself when on the hunt for popsicle molds. I went into the local hardware store and was told “Summer is over, you won’t find those anywhere” and when I replied that no it wasn’t over, I was politely [if that’s possible] laughed at.
The nights are cooler but the ocean is warm. The sun isn’t as strong or up as late but the late blooms are abundant. Seasons aren’t a switch you can flip, they transition into each other and I say summer isn’t over – yet. Not until I make one last bunch of fresh basil pesto. That’s right ocimum basilicum pesto. The herb that finds it's name in roots of the Greek word βασιλεύς [basileus], meaning king. So yes, it is the King of Herbs pesto.
Basil pesto is actually something I’ve never ordered in a restaurant or bought from a store. There’s really no need. It’s just a few little ingredients blended together. And once you’ve mastered the holy grail of pesto sauces [this one] feel free to experiment. Switch basil for parsley or pine nuts for walnuts. The art of pesto, which is really just crushing or mashing, never gets boring.
[Prep: 20 minutes / Cooking: 10 / TOTAL: 30 minutes]
[Serves 4 dinner sized portions]
- 2 cups packed basil [washed and picked off the stem]
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons butter [softened and cubed]
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese [finely grated]
- 2 tablespoons Romano cheese [finely grated]
- 1lb package of pasta [I used Bucatini]
Grilled Summer Squash
[Prep: 3 minutes / Cooking: 6 / TOTAL: 9 minutes]
- 1-2 yellow summer squash [washed and sliced 1/3 inch thick]
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper or about 5 grinds in the mill
Now onto the star of this meal, Basil. So how do we prep this noble green? Simple, just pick it off its stem and wash it. Some basil is dirtier or sandier than others depending on how it's been packaged or grown. An easy way to wash it is to put the leaves in a cold water bath for a few minutes and let any grit settle on the bottom. Pay careful attention to the next few steps, you won’t want to miss them…pack the basil into a blender [or food processor] add the olive oil, garlic cloves, pine nuts and salt. Blend until incorporated – it should be a nice smooth texture but not a liquid – and…you’re done. [If you are using a blender you may need to stop and use a spoon to push the ingredients down off the sides once or twice.] If you are really adventurous you can use a mortar and pestle.
The water should be boiling by now and ready for the pasta. I chose to use bucatini because it’s fun, hearty and has a nice bite to it - it turns this dish into a meal. It looks like thick spaghetti but has a hole going down the center. In general I like to use long pasta when making pesto, but that’s really just a personal preference. Bucatini should boil for about 9 minutes, until al dente.
Transfer the pesto to a medium sized bowl and add the softened cubed butter. With a fork mush the butter in until mostly mixed. Grate the cheese, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano, and incorporate into the pesto sauce in batches. The Pecorino is saltier than Parmesan and is a nice addition to the sauce. The pesto will come out ok without it.
Before straining out the pasta, save some of the water. Toss the bucatini in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix in half of the pesto sauce with a little of the reserved water. This creates a nice base and all of the pasta should be coated in the sauce. The rest should be served on the table and your guests can add more as they please. I also leave out the block of Parmesan so everyone can top off their dishes with a fresh grate!
The last step to this meal was grilling up some summer squash and topping off the pasta with it. This took less then 5 minutes and could easily be done in the oven. However, this is not a necessity, I just had a yummy lone squash hanging out in the fridge. See this recipe on how to grill it!
Also if you have any leftover pesto it rocks on sandwiches or as a base on homemade pizza.
I like to make a big batch of basil pesto at the end of summer and freeze it. It will keep for months and is a nice treat to have in the winter – it tides me over until the summer. I don’t add the butter or cheese before I freeze the sauce; it tastes fresher to add that after defrosting the pesto. You can freeze it in an ice cube tray and then transfer to a zip lock bag or freeze it in a glass jar – it’s up to you – you won’t regret it!