Garden-Fresh Basil Pesto and Sun Dried Tomato Pesto

For the three years I lived in San Francisco, amidst all of the amazing restaurants, farmer's markets, wineries, food and wine festivals, there was one thing I wished for: space for a garden. Living in my "spaciously-challenged" studio apartment, there wasn't even room for herbs growing in my windowsill, and all I wanted to do was to grow was herbs: thyme, basil, parsley, chives - all of the lovely ingredients that I use as much as possible.

Though a huge part of me still yearns to live in the city by the bay, being back in So Cal definitely has its benefits, including space (finally) for my herb garden. There is something innately special to me to be able to open the doors to my patio with a pair of kitchen shears in hand, snip a few sprigs of "something", and head back to my kitchen to put my amazingly fresh ingredients to great use.

And, most recently, that "something" was basil. It's subtle, perfume-y aroma is addictive. And, being the height of Summer, my basil is growing like a weed, but in a good way. These lovely, deep green, herbaceous leaves beg to be used simply in a fresh salad with burrata cheese and heirloom tomatoes, as I have made plenty-a-time so far this season. But, one of my favorite ways to use basil: homemade pesto.

Five simple ingredients - basil, parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts, garlic, olive oil - all pulsed together, create one of my favorite things to cook with. Incorporate with yogurt for a yummy dip for grilled vegetables; add extra olive oil and use to marinate chicken; toss with penne and whatever else you have on hand to make a great pasta dish; or, as I love to do, bring a little cream to a boil, whisk in a bit of pesto, and you have the most satisfying cream sauce for so many things.

And, being the height of Summer, I am making pesto like crazy. Why? Because it freezes so well. Pour the pesto into a tupperware container, throw it in your freezer, and you have homemade pesto to last you through the Fall and colder months. It is a great way to utilize this fragrantly-amazing herb. 

  • about 2 C (packed) worth fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/4 C toasted pine nuts
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (the better the quality, the better it will taste)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place all ingredients in food processor and blend together.

Pour into tupperware container to freeze or use immediately. If storing in fridge, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of pesto to prevent from turning brown/oxidizing. Can be stored in fridge for up to a week, and can be frozen up to 6-8 months.

The vibrant green color from the basil is so beautifully striking, and while making this pesto all I can think about is the myriad of ways to use it. If you freeze it, you can also pour into ice cube trays for individual servings, or, as I do, I just chip away chunks from the tupperware container as I want.

Don't have basil or pine nuts on hand? Change it up! You can use spinach, parsley, cilantro, arugula, etc. in the place of the basil, and as for nuts, choose almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc. for a different take on a simple classic condiment.

So, that leads me to another variation of pesto, using sun dried tomatoes. I "heart" sun dried tomatoes - they become oh-so-sweet during the drying process, and their acceptably chewy texture is amazing in salads and sauces. Whether simply vacuum-sealed or packed in oil, I love to utilize these little gems as much as I can. Here is a great source for sun dried tomatoes.

I love using extra basil I have on hand to make this pesto, and had to share as well.

  • 1 (8.5-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 C toasted pine nuts
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put all ingredients in food processor and combine.

Another great staple to have on hand or to freeze. And, in my most recent case, I made a delicious sun dried tomato cream sauce for chicken that I served for a girl's night dinner:

  • 1/2 C white wine
  • 1/2 C chicken broth
  • 1/4 C sun dried tomato pesto (could also use regular pesto)
  • 1/2 C heavy cream
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper
In a sauce pot, bring wine and chicken broth to a boil; reduce by half.

Add sun dried tomato pesto and cream and reduce by half; season with salt and pepper.

And serve! Yes, that is the grilled corn salad I made recently, and it paired great with the chicken and the sauce.

Whether growing it yourself, bagging some at your local farmer's market, or picking some up this Summer at your local market, make sure to get your hands on some of this season's bounty of basil. So versatile, so fantastic, so delicious.

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