Mary Ann's Blog

Basil Basics

Summer cooking just would not be the same without basil, and for Italians, it is one of the most essential herbs and is always used fresh.
Lots of us grow the kingly plant in pots or garden plots and some of us just grab it at the grocery store. In my own garden, there are literally bushes of basil because we can’t help ourselves. It is a short growing season after all. What do we do with all this basil? We make pesto! Lots of pesto and of course we use it fresh on pizza, in salads, soups, for general cooking and gift it as pesto sauce But growing basil comes with a price…a how to keep it green price because there is nothing worse than brown looking pesto, what a turnoff! So here are a few tricks to keeping it green.

To make pesto, use fresh, small leaves so gather bunches in the morning and pick off the smallest leaves. You need about 2 packed cups of the leaves. Rinse and dry them and set aside. The traditional way to make pesto is in a mortar with a pestle that pounds the leaves down into a pulp. This takes time and since a lot of us are short on that, there is an alternate way and that is to use a food processor (don’t even mention this to Italians) but the dilemma here is that the blade could damage the leaves too much and turn them brown, so if you use small leaves to begin with instead of the larger ones, you won’t have to pulse very long. I find that adding an ice cube to the bowl with the basil helps to keep it green in the processor.

Air is the enemy of pesto sauce. When it is put up in jars, leave some room at the top and fill it with a layer of olive oil. Cap and refrigerate or freeze the pesto right in the jars. When you use it, remove what you need and reseal what is remaining in the jar with more olive oil. Give it a try.

Pesto Sauce
Makes 2 cups

1/4-cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1-teaspoon coarse sea salt
2 cups packed fresh-stemmed small basil leaves
One ice cube
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil plus extra if needed

Place the pine nuts, garlic and coarse salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse two or three times. Add the basil leaves and ice cube and pulse two times. With the motor running, pour the olive oil a little at a time through the feed tube and continue processing until a smooth sauce consistency is obtained. You may not need all the oil. Transfer to a jar.

Recipe from Ciao Italia Family Classics by Mary Ann Esposito






  1. Shelley's avatar


    I love pesto. I made it once a few years ago. This year, I have grown quite a bit of basil and this recipe looks wonderful. Also pretty easy. I love your videos and recipes. I am not Italian; but feel like one when I watch your videos. Thanks so much, Mary Ann.

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