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Pesto is one of the best ways to preserve a little sliver of summer to be brought out in the middle of winter - bright and aromatic basil with garlic, pine nuts, cheeses, olive oil and butter, it's one of my favorite ways to eat pasta. Even if you don't have an herb garden, it's worth going to the farmers market to pick up a big bunch of basil at the end of summer so you can freeze several small jars. Pesto is very versatile and can be used in sandwiches, on roast chicken or fish, and of course tossed with pasta. Today we tossed it with spaghetti and served it with grilled shrimp, which was perfectly complemented by the bright garlicky pesto flavors.
I found this recipe many years ago in the "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" by Marcella Hazan. Although there are lots of pesto recipes out there, I particularly like this one for freezing because it tells you to leave out the cheeses and butter until after you thaw the pesto. Adding them at that point makes the pesto taste much fresher. Also, she tells you to beat the cheeses and butter in by hand rather than in the blender, which gives the pesto a more interesting texture. Two really good tips. I'm actually surprised that I haven't shared this recipe before - it's one of two essentials I make every fall to freeze, along with this roasted tomato salsa that I think is the best salsa ever.
The recipe is very easy to prepare so you can make multiple batches if you have a lot of basil (highly recommended). I would freeze the pesto in small jars because a little goes a long way - the 1/3 cup or so in one of my jars will make plenty of pesto (when the cheeses and butter are added) to top four pieces of chicken or fish, or to toss with enough pasta to feed 2-3 people.
The beautiful green color, fragrance and fresh taste will be a huge reward for you in the middle of winter for just a little effort at this time of the year.
Pesto for Freezing
Makes approximately 2/3 – 3/4 cup of pesto, enough for 6 servings of pasta. The recipe may be doubled or tripled.
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry (or use a salad spinner)
½ cup good olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts (plus more, toasted, for garnish, optional)
2 -3 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese*
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese*
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature*
16 - 20 ounces of pasta, cooked and drained*
Coarse salt and pepper*
Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic cloves, and salt in a blender and mix at high speed, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed with a rubber spatula, until evenly blended.
To Serve Immediately:
Pour the pesto into a bowl and beat in the two cheeses by hand (this results in a more interesting texture and better flavor than if added to the blender). When evenly incorporated, beat in the softened butter. Before adding the pasta, add a tablespoon of pasta water if the pesto seems thick.
Add the hot pasta to the pesto and toss to coat evenly. Serve at once, garnished with additional toasted pine nuts (optional) and a sprinkling of coarse salt and coarse pepper.
To Freeze for Later:
Pour the pesto (without cheeses and butter) from the blender into small jars, cover tightly, and freeze. Before using, thaw overnight in the refrigerator. When completely thawed, beat in the cheeses and butter as described above. Adding the cheeses and butter at this time rather than before freezing gives the sauce a much fresher flavor. Frozen pesto will keep for up to 6 months.
* Not needed until later if you’re planning on freezing all the pesto.