Is your basil about to bolt? We know what that means…. Pesto time!
There are as many varieties and recipes for pesto as there are cooks. Pesto (which means simply “paste”) is a pasty puree of herbs and olive oil. Traditionally it is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, Romano/parmesan cheese and salt. You can vary the nuts (for instance, walnuts, brazil nuts, filberts, or macadamias… or even sunflower or pumpkin seeds), or omit them entirely …. substitute the greens (substitute spinach for all or part of basil, or use Italian parsley, roasted eggplant, roasted peppers instead.
This summer I had straight up Italian/Genovese basil and Thai basil, both thriving and loving the Bakersfield sun. My Thai went crazy bolting a while ago, and I had so much I didn’t know what to do with it. My Italian basil took the heat and sun much better, and as long as I snip off the tops every few days it just keeps on going. But now there is so much of it, I thought I’d make a big batch of pesto and freeze some to use when Winter comes.
Freshly made pesto just happens to be pretty good for you. Basil is known as tulsi in India and is used in Ayurvedic medicine for stomach ailments, digestion, colds, headaches, and inflammation. Garlic is one of nature’s most potent healers and is good for just about everything (to learn more about garlic click here). Cold-pressed (extra virgin) olive oil is known for being a heart healthy food; it’s high in monounsaturated fatty acids that help lower risk for heart disease. Like olive oil, pine nuts are also heart healthy and high in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants. Eat a small handful before a meal and they act as an appetite suppressant. Lastly, they are a great source of magnesium, and also have decent amounts of protein and iron.
It’s the pasta that’s the problem and for which basil pesto may get a bad rap… the combo of pesto with linguine or angel hair pasta is so very tasty, but if you eat that entire platter served to you at the local trattoria, you are probably downing upwards of 700 calories. Pasta, like pesto, means “paste,” but it refers to dough rather than herbs, and also probably to what that dough ends up like in your stomach after you’ve eaten a bowlful…. but a tablespoon of pesto on some roasted potatoes, or dabbed onto thick slices of juicy, ripe, tomatoes will be a fraction of the calories (or at least easier to digest), and just as delicious.
Out in the garden, I picked a basketful, rinsed it all off, and let that sit in a colander to drain while I got some potatoes in the oven. I don’t mix mashed potatoes into my pesto (but, hey, that might be good!) but rather, love to top roasted potatoes, still warm, with pesto. I cut a couple pounds of gold potatoes into bite-size chunks, drizzled a little oil over them, and tossed with freshly ground pepper and salt. Because I knew I’d be adding the pesto later, I kept the seasoning on the potatoes very simple. Spread those out on a baking sheet (for easy clean up, cover it with a sheet of baking parchment), and bake in a 400 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes (until golden brown, turning after about 15 minutes – the smaller they are chopped, the quicker they will cook). While the potatoes were roasting, I prepared the pesto.
I use generous amounts of everything, especially garlic. After I pulled all the leaves off the basil stems my big bowl of basil was reduced enough so it all fit into my 11-cup food processor bowl. I shook a couple whole bulbs of garlic in a glass jar for a minute or two, pulled off their skins, popped the cloves in with the basil, and then pulsed it for about 15 seconds, until it was a coarse puree. Next came a few ounces of Parmesan cheese (please, not the Parm from the shiny green container!), a big handful of pine nuts, and a generous pouring of extra virgin olive oil. I processed this some more, adding more oil to get the consistency I wanted, and also a few dashes of salt. Absolute perfection.
Or do like I did with the extra, and spoon it into little lumps on a baking sheet and freeze until hard. Then once they are frozen, seal in an airtight freezer bag/container. You could do the same thing by freezing your pesto in an ice-cube tray, and then simply transfer your pesto cubes to a freezer container. Perfect for single servings, or adding to tomato or marinara sauce for an extra flavor kick.
After transferring those golden sweethearts into my mixing bowl I lightly tossed with a half cup or so of my luscious basil and garlic pesto. And,, guess what? It was done!
So pretty on the platter, Pesto Roasted Potatoes are ready to be thoroughly enjoyed.
Roasted Pesto Potatoes
Yield: 6-8 serving
Note: It is fine to use jarred/purchased pesto if you don’t have fresh ingredients on hand. But, of course, fresh is always best. I made twice as much pesto than this recipe calls for, and what did not get added to the potatoes, got frozen.
2 pounds red or yellow skinned potatoes (or fingerlings, or any kind of potato)
2-3 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper
For the Pesto:
2 bunches fresh Italian basil (about 4 cups loose packed leaves)
1 bulb garlic, peeled whole cloves
1/3 cup pine nuts (more, if you like, for richer flavor)
2 ounces parmesan or romano cheese (grated or cut in small pieces)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Scrub potatoes and cut into bite-size chunks. Toss with 2 tsp. olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Spread on oiled baking sheet (or line sheet with baking parchment) and bake at 400 degrees on upper rack in oven for 20-30 minutes until golden brown (after first 15 minutes use spatula to turn them over).
Meanwhile, rinse and shake out basil, and then pull leaves from stems. Place basil leaves and garlic cloves in food processor bowl and pulse for about 15 seconds until coarsely chopped. Add pine nuts, parmesan, and olive oil and process about 30 seconds or until desired consistency attained.
Garnish with chopped or whole pine nuts and/or crushed red chilies.