Gardening and Homemade Pesto

Hey there! Summer is in full swing here on The Homestead. We had a lovely little thunderstorm roll through this morning. It was just enough to wet things down, which is really nice this time of year. We planted some fruit trees and wildflowers behind our vegetable garden and up to our tree row this Spring; they could use all the water they can get now that the July sun is starting to heat things up.

Garden

I am sure that my veggie garden enjoyed the rain shower as well. I don’t know what it is, but I can water my garden with my sprinkler and it grows little by little, but when some rain water gives it a drink it seems like it grows several inches at once! I have a few guesses as to why that might be, but don’t have time to get into that now. Do you have thoughts on why rain water seems to be “more nourishing” than tap water?

I am not going to lie to you; I love to garden! I am not by any means a green thumb and more often then not my thumb is a bit on the brownish grayish side. What I mean is, I kill plants easily and it is a lot of work for me to keep things alive. Just ask my houseplants. Well, ask the ones that are still alive, lol. I tend to have several of one or two types of plants; those are the ones that I can’t kill easily, bless their hearts.

Cabbage

When I am successful, I absolutely relish in the joy of gardening. It just so happens that our gardening mistakes from the past two summers have culminated to create an optimal soil for our garden this summer. It is truly the happiest it has ever been and we have had a garden every summer for at least ten years. The onions are huge, the potato plants are enormous, our tomatoes are fully loaded, and I am about to go out and cut our 2nd cutting of basil to make some more pesto today. The only thing not doing great is our bell peppers. I have some guesses as to why, but haven’t done anything to remedy it yet. However, the rest of our garden is doing really, really well, which really makes me very, very happy! Now I can feel like maybe I have learned a few things over the past several years of gardening and maybe my commitment to stick around the place to give our garden the attention it needs is actually paying off.Anaheim

We usually plant a salsa garden, which means we have onions, tomatoes, bell and spicy peppers. Those will also go into our spaghetti sauce, which is so yummy. I am thankful to our friends the Johnson’s for sharing their family’s spaghetti sauce recipe. Maybe they will let me share it here someday!?! Since the kids helped us plant they got to pick a few items. B planted the pumpkins and some birdhouse gourds. A planted radishes and watermelon. M planted some beets and squash. We also have basil, anaheims, zucchini (I’ll post my bread recipe later this summer,) cucumbers, cabbage, and broccoli. We typically put in carrots, lettuce and spinach seeds as well; which for some reason they didn’t germinate. I think it was just too hot once we finally got the seeds in the ground and I probably didn’t water them enough to make sure they got going. C’est la vie! No?

We have a separate patch where we planted our garlic. This is our second year harvesting garlic and since we just did that this past weekend, I will be getting that post together here soon, hopefully.

Like I said, I love to garden and it makes me happy to grow the food that we get to enjoy throughout the year. We eat it fresh and preserve a lot of it by canning. Sometimes I will freeze things, like pesto, because it tastes better that way, but most things like the tomatoes and salsa get canned. This year we have run out of most of our tomato stock, which is why we plan to preserve as much as we can get at harvest time.

tomatoes then

A couple weeks ago…

tomatoes now

…and today’s tomatoes!

I would love to do a canning post, since a lot of people ask me how to can. I have even taught several of our friends in Oregon how to do hot water-bath canning! It is a fairly simple process and a great way to preserve fruits, veggies, and even meat for later use. Since we have a short growing season here in South Dakota, the best way to extend the life of your harvest is to preserve it in one form or another like drying, freezing or canning. Personally I like to know what is in my food and by growing and preserving it, I ensure that the food I serve my family is top quality with no necessary additives! Plus, when you harvest your produce at it’s peak ripeness it has the most flavor and nutritional benefits. If you have never eaten a carrot or potato freshly dug out of the garden, you seriously don’t know what you are missing. Granted some of your nutrients are lost in the canning process, but that doesn’t negate the reasons to still do it.

I am sure to write some more about gardening sometime soon. Perhaps I will do some posts on some of our individual plants. Would you like that? I already know I would like to start with garlic!

Now on to the delicious part of the day….PESTO!

Some of you may be asking, “What the heck is pesto?” I probably even asked that at one point in my life, long, long ago! Well according to good ole trusty Wikipedia, pesto is “is a sauce originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, European pine nuts, coarse salt, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan cheese) and pecorino sardo (cheese made from sheep’s milk), all blended with olive oil.” I have seen other pesto recipes that use other types of herbs and someday I might even try them. Traditional pesto was made by grinding the ingredients with a mortar and pestle. I personally use a blender.

We love basil pesto so much that we typically plant a dozen or more basil plants in our garden so that we can make several batches to last us throughout the year. It tastes amazing and can be used in a variety of ways. For example, pesto makes a lovely sauce for pasta with chicken, pasta salad,  it would be lovely on a homemade turkey panini, or even a grilled cheese sandwich. Our favorite way to eat it is on pizza!!! It is so good and hands down my children’s favorite type of pizza to eat. I will be putting that recipe up soon.

A lot of my recipes come from other blogs, family, friends, or I just make them up.This particular recipe for pesto came out of a book called “Family Fun, Cooking with Kids” (Disney Edition). There are some other great recipes in it as well, and it is a great book to encourage your little ones to help you out in the kitchen. My kids like to help me anyway, but when they see other kids in a recipe book doing all the cooking it gives them even more desire to help out!

You don’t really need a lot to make pesto and it is really easy. So easy, that you will be wondering why you haven’t been making pesto all along.

Here is what you need:

A food processor or blender
Spatula
containers to store your pesto in (I use plastic freezer storage cups, with screw top lids)

Ingredients:
2 or 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnut pieces
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Basil in Bowl

After you have clipped your basil bring it in and give it a good rinse. I always spin mine out in the salad spinner to get rid of the excess water. Then pluck the leaves off of the stems and measure into your bowl. I sort out the really tough leaves and if there are any flower buds.

Washed Basil

If you are using a high powered blender like a Vita-Mix or a food processor, you will want to add the garlic, nuts, and salt in first and process until finely chopped. Then add your oil and basil and process until the herb is chopped. Make sure you stop to scrape your sides down as often as you need. Then you can transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the cheese.

Blender Pesto

If you are using just a plain old blender, like I do, the order of your ingredients is a little more important. I always add my oil first and then my basil, then the rest of my ingredients (garlic, salt, nuts, and cheese.) I have to help my blender along by pushing the basil down as it processes. I do not recommend sticking things like spoons, spatulas, or your hands into your blender!!! Please be safe. Plus you will ruin your pesto if you bleed into it. Just keep going until it is smooth and no big chunks are left.

Eventually everything turns into this beautiful, creamy, green, Heaven-on-a-Spoon, delicious sauce that you are sure to love.

PestoSpoon

As a side note, I have never used pine nuts because they are incredibly high priced. Usually I use walnuts, but have used pecans which make a decent pesto. Chris and I used to go to a brewery in Corvallis that has a yummy pesto made with hazelnuts. So if you are up for experimenting, feel free to use your favorite tree nut. If you are unable to eat nuts, then leave them out. They add mostly texture and a little bit of flavor, but this recipe will still be amazing even without the nuts.

You can make pesto ahead of time and either freeze it or keep it in the fridge. You just want to bring it to room temperature before you use it in your pasta or chicken dishes. I make my pesto as my basil gets ready throughout the summer, usually about 2 batches at a time. Then I stick it in the freezer and have it to use throughout the year. Our pesto never lasts the whole year, but I would imagine it probably keeps just fine for at least 6-8 months in the freezer.

Some of you may be new to gardening or growing basil. In that case, have no fear. I am here to help you. You can cut your plant back and it will regrow if you leave some of the stem and leaves still attached. I think the first year we grew basil we just pulled the whole plant up to harvest it! Silly us, don’t be like us, let your basil keep growing. It will thank you and so will your tummy. I think that we got about four different cuttings from our basil last year, which equates to roughly 8-10 batches of pesto!!!

Tender Basil

How do you tell when to pick your basil, you may be wondering? Well, the best time to use your basil for pesto is when the leaves are still tender and before it flowers. If your basil starts to flower before you have the time to get out there and harvest it, just pluck those flowers off. It will keep growing and eventually start to flower again, but it might give you a couple days to get yourself ready for making pesto. The leaves will start to get tougher the longer that it grows. Those ones can be dried and crumbled to use in your spice cupboard. Once you have harvested the basil you want to make your pesto that day, otherwise your basil will wilt and some of the flavor will be lost. No Beuno!

basil leaves

If there are any other questions you might have about basil or this pesto recipe, please let me know. I am happy to share what I know and am always willing to look up the things that I don’t know. I would also love to hear what you like to plant in your gardens, if you have one. Thank you all for visiting and look forward to another post as soon as I am able.

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