Sunday, July 13, 2014

Meatless Monday: With Basil In Season — It’s Pesto Time!

When the days are perfect for spending time at the beach — long, hot, and sunny — conditions are also right for growing a bumper crop of basil.

Basil is a highly fragrant annual in the Lamiaceae (mint) family, with origins in the tropical Old World. Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is the most familiar, but there are a number of other varieties — in colors ranging from light green to purple, and with flavors from “classic” to licorice.

Many sites tout basil’s antioxidant and antibacterial properties; WebMD states that two tablespoons of chopped fresh basil provide 27% of the RDA of Vitamin K, as well as significant amounts of vitamin A, manganese, and magnesium.

Basil requires lots of sun, and frequent watering during dry spells, but it does well in either a garden or a good-sized container. If you are interested in growing your own, check out these tips on the Old Farmer’s Almanac site [The tips are good; ignore the hokeyness of the site.] 

Now is the time to find basil in plentiful supply at the farmer’s market, where it is sold by the bunch at likely the lowest prices of the season.

Pesto (“paste” in Italian) is what I always make when I have a large quantity on hand, as I did on Saturday. I turned to a favorite source — Beard on Pasta  — for a recipe. Beard’s “Pesto” calls for pignoli (pine nuts) and pecorino or Parmesan cheese, the traditional ingredients. But this time I opted for his alternate version which calls for walnuts as a substitute for pignoli. Vegans rejoice! Cheese is NOT an ingredient in Beard’s “Pesto with Walnuts.” It was delicious served atop of a bowl of rotini, whose spiral shape holds pesto so well. [If you find you miss the cheese, just add a few curls of Parmesan.]

  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup Italian parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 to 1 cup olive oil 

  • Remove the stems from the basil and parsley.
  • Wash well and spin dry.
  • Put the basil, garlic, walnuts, parsley, and salt into the food processor with 1/2 cup of olive oil. 
  • Process, adding just enough additional oil to make a smooth paste.

Often served as a topping with pasta (hot or cold), pesto has many other uses, from soups and salads to sandwiches and vegetable toppings. 

Google “Basil Pesto” for more ideas. If you plan to freeze your leftovers for winter use, note that most recipes call for freezing WITHOUT cheese. You can add in the cheese of your choice once your pesto is thawed.

Don’t miss this great opportunity to prepare some great, low-cost summer meals and to put some food by for the winter — all without cooking!  

Happy Monday. Have a great week!

On Mondays I often blog on food, food issues, or gardening in support of Meatless Monday, one of several programs developed in the Healthy Monday project, founded in 2003 in association with Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications. Meatless Monday’s goal is “to help reduce meat consumption 15% in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”


  1. This is my new favorite pesto. Not only is it cheaper to make, but easier and delicious.

  2. We had an abundance of oregano in our garden and discovered that oregano pesto is very tasty, too.