Fresh basil is absolutely my favorite herb! I always grow it during the warm months to have a few pinches of it to grace all of my pasta and Thai dishes. But whenever I get a hold of a big bunch of it I just think of one thing: Pesto! I think of pesto sauce as an inspired mixture of explosive flavors all designed to showcase the incredible basil. Usually I like to find bunches of basil at the local farmers market, but in the winter I'm stuck buying it at the local supermarket, where it's often wilted and expensive.
The other day my wife informed me that lately everything I've been cooking is "heavy". And she's right, I'm guilty as charged! I guess I've kind of been embracing the whole winter cooking feeling with soups, stews and casseroles, dark sauces and root vegetables. To combat this, she went shopping the other day she came back with a full container of good looking basil, and I knew what she had in mind, a little pesto to lighten up our kitchen (and just on time to correspond with 70 degree weather that's blown in to the Carolina's this week).
Pesto sauce can be used for a multitude of purposes, but my favorite an the simplest is just to toss it with some pasta. The best gluten-free pasta that I've found is Tinkyada rice pasta. It has a good, unobtrusive flavor and won't (like most GF pastas) break apart, even if overcooked.
Basil Pesto Sauce
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 whole cloves garlic
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
• Spread the pine nuts on a baking pan and toast in a pre-heated oven at 325º (or toasted oven)for about 3 minutes or until slightly browned, shaking the pan occasionally. Careful not to let them burn.
• Pack the basil leaves into the food processor.
• Put the parmesan cheese, garlic cloves, toasted pine nuts and olive oil and crushed red pepper (optional) into the food processor.
• Blend all together in the food processor until well mixed, about 1-2 minutes.
• Use about two tablespoons pesto per serving of pasta, toss together,sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper and a little fresh grated parmesan cheese. Mangia!