I remember vividly the first time I had pesto. I was eleven and my friend’s mother prepared it for dinner at a sleepover. They were different than other parents in our neighborhood. They had a wine cellar and a tangine and regularly attended the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra. The pesto was from the cities, and came in a small expensive jar that definitely didn’t say “family value” like most of the packaging in my mom’s pantry. I felt nouveau.
If you don’t have a herb garden, let the above picture be just one of the reasons to start one. That is a sink full of Oregano. Its presence in our sink didn’t even put a dent into the plant growing out of control along the side of the house. It’s a perennial, therefore virtually effortless. It just appears in the spring and grows. I don’t think I’ve ever even watered it. The plant is roughly 4 feet long and a generous foot wide. We have to continually give it away or cut it back before it flowers and is taken over by bees. I’m allergic to bees. Needless to say my fear of being stung has put me on a mission to cook anything I can find with massive amounts of oregano, and oregano pesto seemed the perfect concentrated use. That and fresh pesto is like sex in the mouth. Yup I said it. I’ve also read that you can preserve it by freezing it in ice cube trays. Is there anything not awesome you can do with ice cube trays? Does someone hold a patent on those? I’m over the moon at the thought of having pesto in the middle of winter that doesn’t come from a packet at the store (yuck!).
The first step to creating pesto is the mountain of chopping. Really if you have a food processor, I envy you. It’s on my list and if we can spare some savings at some point, we’ll definitely pick one up. For the time being we couple traditional chopping with using our coffee bean grinder. For this batch we used 2 bunches of oregano and 1 bunch of basil.
When you’re finished you’ll have a mountainous, fluffy pile of chopped herbs. Glorious! To this you’ll add 1 ounce of fresh peeled garlic, and 1 ounce of walnuts. You can also use pine nuts, depending on the flavor you want in the end. Add the juice of 1 lemon and 4-5 ounces of good olive oil. It’s best to squeeze the lemon over a filter to prevent seeds from getting in your pesto. Also, use quality olive oil or you’re sure to regret it. Add the liquids slowly, stirring as you add so they mix evenly. By adding it slowly you can also add more or less depending on the consistency you prefer in your pesto.
Eesh, I know this won’t be winning photo contests any time soon. Definitely not photogenic. However the smell is incredible. Our kitchen still smells like oregano! Your pesto is now officially done. You can either use it, store it for a few days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it.
To freeze the batch at the size we made, you’ll need one ice cube tray. Remove the ice, we recommend giving some to your dog (we couldn’t help it). Coat each cube section with a dab of olive oil. Empty pesto into a sealable (Ziploc) bag and cut a 1/2″ section from one of the corners.
Squeeze the pesto into each cube section. Don’t fill to the top, you’ll have a mess on your hands. Literally. Cover with saran wrap completely, but poke the saran wrap into each cube section, allowing pesto and saran wrap to touch. This will cut your chances of oxidation during freezing. Place trays in the freezer and allow to freeze. Once frozen (a few hours), transfer pesto cubes to freezer bags and eliminate as much air as possible to prevent further oxidation. (Tip: It may seem obvious, but don’t ever microwave to thaw)
This isn’t the only variation we plan on trying. When using herbs, there are dozens of combinations that I’m positive will make great pesto. I can’t wait to share our first dish with you!