With overnight temperatures approaching freezing in Cowtown, now’s a good time to pick any basil that’s growing outside and figure out how to make the most of it through the winter. Since I’m not much for dried basil (some fresh herbs just don’t translate to a dried state with any semblance of their former selves), I recently made a big batch of basil pesto, spooned it into ice cube trays, drizzled olive oil over each (to help preserve the color), and froze it overnight. You then dump the pesto cubes into a freezer bag (they won’t come out as easily as ice cubes; you might need to loosen them with a knife) and store them in the freezer so in the coming months you’ll have single-use portions of pesto to toss with freshly cooked pasta, stir into soups, spread on crostini, whisk into salad dressings or dips, use as a sandwich spread, or any other use you can think of. While I’ve often frozen pesto for the winter, this is the first year I’ve done it in ice cube trays for more conveniently sized portions; an Italophile who came over for dinner last Friday reminded me of that trick, her description of frozen pesto cubes proved so inspiring that I was outside later that night with a flashlight and some kitchen shears hacking away at what had become a very ample bush of basil.While this is a bit of a project, with bunches and bunches of basil to sort through and those ice cube trays to scrub out afterwards (my least favorite part of cooking is always the cleaning), it’s a worthy one for the holiday weekend. A salad spinner is helpful for washing and drying the leaves, and the top rack of the dishwasher is okay for most ice cube trays. Pesto is an incredibly versatile condiment to have on hand, and you’ll be glad for its bright flavors through the winter.
Basil Pesto This filled about one and a half ice cube trays; adjust the amounts depending upon how much basil you want to use. A word of caution: Salt is very necessary in pesto, but it’s easy to go overboard; instead of relying on a recipe (mine or anyone else’s), start with less salt than you think you’ll need and add it to taste. Same goes for garlic.
8 to 10 cups washed loosely packed basil leaves 1/2 cup (or more) olive oil 1/2 cup pine nuts 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese 3 to 4 cloves garlic 1/2 to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
Add all ingredients to food processor; blend until pureed, scraping down sides of bowl. Thin with additional olive oil if desired. Adjust seasoning to taste with additional garlic and salt if desired. Spoon pesto into ice cube trays, drizzle each with olive oil, and freeze overnight. Transfer cubes to freezer bag, loosening with a knife if necessary, and store in the freezer.