So I thought it was time for a good cut-back, and what else could I do with all that lovely fresh basil but pick off all the lovely fresh leaves and make lovely fresh pesto?
Truth be told, I've never made pesto before - not the basil type anyway, just the fat hen type. Then, I used a food processor, but really you're supposed to use a pestle and mortar (the word 'pesto' is apparently derived from the Italian word for 'pounded'). My pestle and mortar are just not big enough for pounding a big bowl of leaves, but I found this lovely recipe on 101 Cookbooks which advocates chopping the ingredients with a sharp knife or mezzaluna instead, claiming it keeps the flavours brighter and more defined - and who am I to argue with an Italian grandmother? The other thing this recipe has going for it is the really small amount of oil used - I cringe when I see recipes that call for a smattering of basil leaves swimming in loads and loads of oil. I only used two or three tablespoons of oil for four people, and it was plenty.
It's a bit of a chore, of course, chopping all this manually, and it takes a while. I started with the garlic and a handful of basil, added more basil and the pine nuts gradually as the pile got smaller, and added the grated parmesan last. I had to stop a couple of times to stretch cramp out of my hand!
Still a way to go...
It would probably have been best to marinate the chopped pesto in oil for a while to let the flavours do their thing, but there was no time for that - I simply stirred the chopped ingredients and a drizzle of oil into just-drained gnocchi, gave it a good stir on a low heat, and served up, on a bed of spinach leaves with a few extra toasted pine nuts and slivers of parmesan. It smelled amazing! Tasted pretty darn good too, and the almost citrussy brightness of the fresh basil was noted around the table. What a delight in the middle of winter!
I cut the plant back pretty severely, but in a new pot, with a little feed and spring on the way, hopefully it will be thriving again soon. Can't wait! Basil is pretty easy to grow from seed all year round on a sunny windowsill - why not give it a go?