From the Archives: A Passion for Pesto

This post, which orginally appeared last September, will be my final re-post while on vacation. From now until mid-September is the perfect time to make pesto because basil is readily available this time of year.

As summer winds down, my family typically harvests the bulk of the basil from our garden and makes pesto. What does this have to do with "mucking about" you might ask. Well, it starts with my kids and I cutting nearly all of the basil in our garden. They get right into the beds and use their own scissors to cut the stems. Then we work together to make the pesto, a delicious green sauce that tastes great on pasta and pizza, among other uses.

Even if you think your kids won't like pesto, give it a try. It may take a few attempts, but many kids come around. Exposing your kids to a variety of flavors while they are young will open their palates to a variety of foods and may even help them be healthier eaters. Exposing them to different flavors also fits into my other passion- and one of the goals of this blog- learning about other cultures. Food is central to culture and to people's daily lives.

We started this tradition when my son was just 3 years old and have continued every year since.

Making pesto from scratch serves several wonderful purposes for my kids.
  1. They help grow the basil, so they learn about life cycles of plants.
  2. They harvest the basil, so they see the fruits of their labors. And, as with all gardening, they know where their food came from.
  3. They work in the kitchen with me, so they learn about cooking. They also they learn some math as we work with fractions and measurement.
  4. They eat healthy, homemade meals that are not too difficult to prepare.
Even if you do not have basil in your own garden, you can buy it at a farmers' market or grocery store and still accomplish numbers 3 and 4.

Here's what to do:
  1. Pick or purchase a bunch of basil. For my recipe, you'll need two generous handfuls of leaves.
  2. Remove the leaves from the stems. Discard any damaged or brown leaves. My kids always do this job. They each learned how at about the age of three.
  3. Wash the leaves in plenty of cold water. Spin them dry in a salad spinner or pat them dry with a tea towel or paper towels. This is another job for the kids!
  4. Follow the recipe below.
Ingredients:
2 generous handfuls of basil leaves
2-3 plump cloves of fresh garlic
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts *
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
about 1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil (Start with 1/3 and add more as needed).
About 1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice
Generous pinch of salt (I prefer coarse sea salt).

Directions:
  1. Place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process/blend until smooth.
  2. Mix with cooked whole wheat pasta and sprinkle with grated cheese for a delicious meal.
* To toast the pine nuts, heat them in a dry skillet over low to medium heat until they turn a golden brown. Keep the nuts moving around by shaking the pan or stirring with a spoon. You must watch them carefully because they go from raw to burned very quickly if the heat is too high or they are in the pan for too long. In the case of allergies, simply omit the pine nuts.

Tip:
If you make a big/double batch, you can freeze it for use in the winter. Pour the pesto into ice cube trays, cover the trays with plastic wrap and place them in the freezer. Once they're frozen, transfer the cubes to a freezer bag. I tend to leave the pine nuts and cheese out if I plan to freeze the pesto because it takes less space. When you use the pesto you can add those ingredients.

During the winter, you can drop a cube or two into soup, make pesto pizza, or pesto pasta. I've found 7 cubes is about right for one pound of pasta.

Do you have any end of summer traditions with your family? What are they? Do they involve "mucking about" or "meeting the locals?" Tell us about them.