For me, this is THE absolute summer dish. Why? Because I can only grow basil in summer. Nowadays there are only a few products that are truly seasonal (as in: you can only get hold of them in a certain season), most of the things are flown in from other parts of the world or they are grown in hothouses. This is not necessarily a good thing, since it is not very sustainable, but it does mean that when you crave something off-season, you can still buy it.
I never buy basil. Basil is a very vulnerable herb. This means that the cut variant is useless anyway, the taste diminishes just too fast. And the small plants you can buy are useless too, because they are grown much too fast. To get a lot of flavour in basil, it needs a long growth time. That is why I grow my own basil. It is very easy and a lot cheaper than buying the plants every time you need basil. I pour a layer of potting earth into an empty, washed yoghurt container, wet it well, sprinkle a layer of basil seeds on top and cover it lightly with a little more soil. I place the transparent lid of the yoghurt container on top to create a mini-hothouse and place it on a sunny spot. I make sure that it stays wet and I remove the lid when the plants start to emerge. Just keep watering the plant regularly until it is big enough to use (this takes about 6 weeks). I use the whole plant in one or two days, because the climate over here is not good for basil, so once I start picking, the plant dies anyway. That is why I try to sow some new basil every two weeks for a steady supply.
For me, pesto is one of the best ways to use basil. It is a very clean tasting dish in which all the ingredients shine. I think pesto should be made in a mortar and pestle, because making it in a food processor will give a different, less nice texture. Most Italian recipes advice to use an equal amount of two cheeses: parmezan and pecorino, but I like to use the grana padano from our local cheese monger; use what you like. It always takes a bit playing around, getting to know the amounts of everything you like to get a balanced pesto. This recipe is just a starting point from where you can find out your way of pesto. Just like the Italians, in Italy no two pesto recipes are the same!
Pasta pesto (2 persons)
From ‘De Zilveren Lepel’
25 large leaves fresh basil
50-100 ml good extra virgin olive oil
40 g pine nuts
50 g cheese, grated (grana padano, or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino)
a small clove of garlic, peeled (optional, some people don’t like garlic in their pesto)
extra cheese to serve
200 gram spaghetti, cooked following instructions of the package
optional: grilled courgette or asparagus
Roast the pine nuts (this is not authentic, but I like how it brings out the flavour). Crush the garlic together with a little salt in a pestle and mortar. Add the roasted pine nuts, crush. Add the basil, crush into a fine paste. Add the olive oil, just enough to make a thick paste (some people like their pesto with a lot more oil). Stir the grated cheese trough and check if everything is in balance. Serve immediately with pasta, some extra cheese and vegetables.