Pesto is not only one of the tastiest condiments you could make but also versatile and healthy. Made with pure fresh ingredients, it includes some of the best things nature has to offer. The ingredients are simple and basic; they include fresh basil leaves, fresh garlic, olive oil, fresh (not roasted) walnuts or Pine nuts, salt and pepper.
You can buy pesto in the supermarket, condiment stores or alternatively make it in a food processor, it will probably taste fine, but our aim is for excellence.
To produce a truly superb pesto you should chop it by hand; when you put it in a food processor it becomes too much of a paste and too juicy. This is often the problem with the commercial products, but when chopped by hand you can get the consistency just right. The other reason to make it at home is that you can ensure that you are using the most quality ingredients. Upon choosing your ingredients, it is best to go to a farmer’s market or somewhere that has an especially good turnover. There are many different varieties of basil leaves, lemon basil, clove basil and cinnamon basil to name just a few, sweet basil is mostly used for pesto but ask your local producer for other varieties and see which you prefer. Basil leaves should be a deep green color (avoid dark spots and yellowing). They are available all year around but there is usually quite a difference in size and taste between the summer months, when it grows freely and bountifully and in the winter.
Fragrant and sweet, basil also has many health benefits, it has anticancer and antiviral properties, it is an excellent source of Vitamin A and a good source of Magnesium, which promotes cardio vascular health. To prepare the basil, wash the plant and pat dry the leaves, once the leaves are no longer dripping remove the stems. It is best to cut the stems off to where there are no longer many leaves, and then separate the leaves from the main branch. It is OK to leave some of the smaller stems but not recommended to put the main larger stems into your pesto. Chop the leaves finely, for this recipe; you should have around 2 cups full of chopped basil. The next step is to take a handful of walnuts and chop them small, but not to a powdery consistency. After chopping, you should have a half a cup of walnuts. The pesto will be better if you can taste the small nut pieces, they should be no larger than a grain of rice. As you prepare your pesto take note of the health qualities of your ingredients. Walnuts are rich in vitamin E and an excellent source of healthy monounsaturated fats that are good for your heart. Some people use Pine nuts; we have found walnuts to add a richer and chunkier texture.
Drizzle in just enough virgin olive oil to make it stick together as a paste. Extra virgin olive oil is one of the most health-enhancing oils on the market, and found to be highly protective against heart and chronic degenerative diseases. Around two full tablespoons of fresh garlic should be added and salt and pepper to taste. People are always surprised when they see how much garlic we put in, not only does it add a wonderful taste but also has abundant health benefits. To name just a few, garlic has antibacterial, anti viral and anti cancer properties and an ability to lower blood pressure. We find that a lot of fresh garlic adds not only to the taste but helps us to put health-producing foods into our bodies. Some people like to add parmesan cheese to their pesto, we think this adds unnecessary fat content and therefore reduces the general nutrition benefits. Pesto is delicious as a spread on bread or crackers, added to salads or eaten with grains, pizza or with any casserole or vegetable dish. Pesto is truly versatile, able to enhance almost any meal.