Basil Pesto

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Basil pesto is such a huge deal in my house. Mostly because my husband could eat it on ice cream, practically.

To me, pesto is an extremely versatile ingredient. This flavorful, emerald-colored paste can be added to soups, breads, meat, seafood, salad dressings, sauces, marinades, and so many other dishes.

The only thing is, you have to make it. You can buy prepared pesto, but it’s expensive; home made is better.

All you need are a few basil plants, some dirt, a little water, and lots of sun. I’ve been growing basil for over 35 years in Texas and Oklahoma, and I don’t end up with basil plants – I have basil bushes. And the weather in these states can be brutal. So trust me – there’s no green thumb requirement for growing basil.

Today I’m making a batch of traditional basil pesto based on how it’s made in the Ligurian region of Italy where basil grows in abundance, called pesto alla Genovese.

I’ve always heard that the best Italian pesto is made only from baby basil leaves, but I use the larger leaves as well, as long as they’re not “leathery.” And I just buy domestic basil plants locally.

The only other thing I do when I make a batch of pesto is not add cheese. Omitting cheese saves space in my freezer; it probably cuts the pesto volume by 50%. Then when I use pesto and want cheese, I freshly grate it.

Also, with having non-cheesy pesto, it is basically another ingredient than the cheesy version. For example, the non-cheesy pesto can go in soups, in a vinaigrette, or a marinade, where cheese isn’t a necessary component.

Here’s my recipe for a batch of pesto, when you have an abundance of fresh basil. There’s no exact recipe, and you’re welcome to alter it to your own tastes.

After I pick the basil branches in the morning, I set them outside to let the creepy-crawlers escape. I don’t know if it really works, but it makes me feel better.

Basil Pesto (Cheeseless)
Makes about 72 ounces

4 ounces of pine nuts, I toast mine
Approximately 10 ounces of good olive oil
2 heads garlic, cloves peeled
Basil leaves – from a giant armful of branches

Place the pine nuts, olive oil, and garlic in a large blender jar. Blend until smooth. This is an important step so the rest of the pesto-making process is only about adding leaves.

Then begin adding leaves, making sure they are soft, and void of damage, bugs, or webs.

There’s a point when you can barely blend in the last leaves, as in the photo above. If you must, add a tablespoon of oil, and play with your blender to get the pesto nice and smooth. Then you will end up with this.

Spatula the pesto into sterilized jars. The pesto can be refrigerated but I freeze until needed, and thaw one jar at a time.

Now to the pesto pasta. Choose a 1-pound package of pasta, and cook it to the package directions.

Drain the pasta, then place it back the still-hot pot. Add some pesto, I used about 1 cup of what I’d just made, but we like it strong. Add about the same amount of grated cheese, or to your liking. Then gently stir.

Serve the pasta while it’s nice and warm and the cheese has melted. You can also add some evaporated milk, goat milk, or cream to the pesto for a creamier pasta dish.

If you’ve never made pesto, this one would be a good recipe with which to start.

Pesto oxidates easily, but just on the surface area. Stir it up and the pesto will still be emerald green.

To prevent this in the jar, pour a little olive oil on top of the pesto.

Once you get the hang of pesto, it’s fun and easy to switch out the herbs, and use different nuts and even seeds, to create unique pestos.

Here are some other ways I’ve made and used pesto.

Butternut Squash Soup with Gorgonzola Crema

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Many years ago I was gifted a little book authored by American cheese maven Paula Lambert, who owns the Mozzarella Company in Dallas, Texas.

The book is called “Cheese, Glorious Cheese.” I couldn’t think of a better title for a cheese book myself!

I remember I was almost scared to open the book. I don’t need any help eating and enjoying cheese.

But then, I did. And the recipes are really fun.

Being that I’m dreaming of fall and, my butternut squashes have successfully matured in my garden, I thought what better recipe to make from this book but a butternut squash soup with a dollop of Gorgonzola crema.

It just takes soup to a new level, right? Oh, and there’s also some peppered bacon bits on top as well. Perfect for an almost-fall, wishing-for-fall lunch.

Butternut Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Crema
Extremely Adapted from, “Cheese, Glorious Cheese”

1 large butternut squash, about 2 pounds
Chicken broth, about 4 cups
8 ounces peppered bacon, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
4 shallots, chopped
8 ounces marscapone
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup crema, or Mexican sour cream
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola

Begin the soup by peeling the butternut squash, and removing the seeds. Cut up the squash into fairly uniform-sized pieces and place them in a large pot.

Pour the broth over the top – just enough to cover – and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer, cover the pot, and let the squash cook for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove the lid and let the squash cool.

In a skillet, place the bacon and butter. Cook the bacon until to your taste. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon, but keep the skillet with the butter and bacon fat.

Over medium heat, cook the onion and shallots for about 5-6 minutes, or until soft.

When the squash has cooled, remove it from the pot with a slotted spoon and place in a large blender jar. I only begin adding the broth when blending begins, so that I can control the consistency.

Add the onion-shallots, the marscapone, and salt. Blend, adding a little broth as necessary, to make the soup to your desired thickness. I prefer my cream-based soups quite thick.

Stir together the crema and gorgonzola, and have the bacon dice on hand.

Ladle the hot soup into soup bowls.

Place a dollop of the gorgonzola cream in the center, and then sprinkle on the bacon.

The flavor combination is incredible. I could actually do without the bacon.

Personally, I forced myself to follow through on the gorgonzola; I much prefer feta. But it’s wonderful.

It’s good to stir the gorgonzola cream into the soup, but not too much. You want to taste those different flavors.

If you didn’t notice, I like thick, rich, creamy soups. If you didn’t want to make a rich soup, you can use evaporated milk instead of marscapone. But don’t omit the butter! Butter belongs in soups!

Or, you could simply use chicken broth. But that’s no fun. Happy Fall!

Sorrel Soup

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A girlfriend and I share a love of gardening, although her thumb is a deeper shade of green than mine. Plus she’s way more experimental and scientific.

Every spring, I grab from what is offered locally by nurseries. I get excited just to see a variegated sage, probably because there were years that I couldn’t even find basil plants. Those were some tough years.

Just the other day this girlfriend asked me what to do with sorrel. I had no answer because I’d never grown it. My mother has mentioned sorrel over the years, so I emailed her and she remembers a soup with a roux base, that contained sorrel.

So I had to google sorrel. The description of the taste of sorrel was interesting – it’s not just a spinach or arugula kind of leaf. In fact sorrel and rhubarb are in the same botanical family! It’s got a lemony thing going on; the lemon flavor bursts out of the leaf when you chew it, almost like a squirt of lemon juice.

Some of the leaves had grown quite tall already, and with most leafy plants like lettuces, the baby leaves are good raw, but the older ones should be cooked because they can become bitter. This is especially the case when the weather gets warmer. So I decided to make a soup.

So we harvested it, I gently rinsed the leaves in water, and placed them on a towel to dry.

Before using them in the soup I cut off some of the thicker stems.

Here’s the soup I made, which is a mixture of all the sorrel soups I found online, many of which were called French sorrel soup.

Sorrel Soup

2 ounces unsalted butter
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 leeks, sliced, white and pale green parts
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 white potatoes, chopped
Sorrel leaves, about 8 ounces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 – 1/2 cups good chicken broth
Heavy cream, about 4-6 ounces

Heat the butter over medium heat in a soup pot. Have all of the ingredients prepped.

Add the onion, leeks, and garlic to the butter and saute´for about five minutes.

Stir in the potatoes.

Then add the sorrel leaves and a little salt.

Add enough broth just to cover the potatoes. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, or until the potatoes are fully cooked.

Remove the lid and, if necessary, keep the soup at a gentle simmer to evaporate excess liquid.

When somewhat cooled off, pour the soup into a large blender jar and blend until smooth. Add cream to the mixture and blend until incorporated. Stop at the desired consistency.

Serve hot or warm.
I added a little dollop of sour cream and a few chopped chives.

I didn’t add any other seasoning other than salt because I wanted the sorrel flavor to really shine. But a little white pepper would be good.

Cooking the sorrel subdues the lemony flavor, but the soup is still really tasty.

If you can find sorrel and haven’t had it before, I’d first try it in a salad mixed with other greens. That way you can really taste the unique lemon flavor of it.

note: If you don’t want to use white potatoes to thicken the soup, you can use some silken tofu, or drained, canned beans.