When the first producer of modern pesto, Giovanni Battista Ratto, penned the first recipe for pesto in his writings in 1863, a culinary addition was memorialized and is still used today.
However, a pesto-type spread goes back to ancient Rome. It would help if you considered then how would they have chopped basil for a pesto without a food processor, or a good steel knife, for that matter.
The point here is there is more than one way to chop basil for pesto, and I will list them. So then, if you happen to have a garden full of basil, you will have more than one method of turning it into pesto for your pasta and other uses. Basil is rich in many nutrients, has 92 calories per tablespoon, and makes a beautiful spread or addition to a sauce.
First, harvest and wash your basil.
Before you begin chopping, harvest your fresh basil leaves, rinse them under cool water, and then allow them to air dry. If you start with wet leaves, the added liquid may make your pesto watery, and you do not want that.
You can use leaves, stems, and even blossoms when making pesto. However, if you are harvesting larger plants, the stem may be too tough to use in your pesto. Save it, though, because you can use it for cooking elsewhere.
You can chop basil for pesto with a knife.
Before food processors, cooks used knives to chop basil. It is still the preferred method for chopping basil for pesto for many cooks. Using a knife, you have a lot of control regarding the size of the chopped basil.
Some people prefer a coarse chop, while others do not. You have infinite control when prepping basil for pesto with a knife. However, a knife will bruise basil unless it is very sharp. So before you begin chopping, get out your sharpest knife.
The best method for chopping basil with a knife is Chiffonade, a French technique for cutting any leafy herb or vegetable. The process is simple and requires only a cutting board, a very sharp knife, fresh basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
How to Chiffonade Basil?
You do not have to chop your basil like this. However, it makes chopping much easier and the job relatively quickly.
- Wash and dry your basil leaves, and pat them dry with a paper towel, or let them air dry if you are not in a hurry.
- Stack the leaves from the largest on the bottom and the smaller leaves on top. Roll the leaves length-wise or from top to bottom, which works best when using very young small basil leaves.
- Using a very sharp chef’s knife, cut the basil into strips, and how fine or coarse you want the strips is entirely up to you. Use your knife to slice the basil instead of bearing down on the leaves, which can bruise them and cause them to darken.
- After chiffonading the basil, you can chop it into a coarse or fine mix. You can also experiment until you find the texture you want for your pesto.
You can chop the basil with a food processor.
Today, this is likely the most common way cooks and homemakers make pesto. It is easy, and you can toss in all of the ingredients at one time, and presto, less than five minutes later, you have fresh pesto.
However, the trick is not to turn it into mush. It is very easy to over chop items in the food processor unless you use one often. In addition, the basil leaves are tender. However, some of the other ingredients in pesto are not.
Most pesto contains a nut of some kind, and although pine nuts are the most common, walnuts or pecans are often used in pesto instead. Whether you toast your pine nuts or not is entirely up to you.
Toasting pine nuts will change the flavor profile of the nut and your pesto, which is the beauty of pesto. Pesto is like most sauces, and you can add fresh spinach and tomatoes.
The process of chopping basil for pesto in a food processor
This is not a recipe. There are many pesto recipes, and you may already have one. A process will help you make the best pesto possible in a food processor that is not watery mush. When pesto has too much liquid, the flavors are not as intense. You want pesto, not soup.
- Put your peeled garlic cloves with a pinch of salt into your food processor and pulse until they are minced.
- Add your nuts and pulse three times. Now, add parmesan cheese and lemon zest and pulse until they have the consistency of a coarse meal.
- Now it is time to add your clean dry basil leaves, along with the olive oil, and pulse until they are evenly minced.
- Scrape the walls of the food processor, and then give the mix a quick pulse to finish.
- You can now add it to the pasta batch or store it in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator.
You can chop basil in a blender.
Blenders were invented in 1922, and food processors in 1971. So, it would make sense that somewhere along the way, recipes were developed that you can whip in a blender.
The process is similar to using a food processor. You can make most blenders pulse, like a food processor, to get the consistency of chop you want for your pesto.
The process of chopping basil in a blender
- When using a blender to make pesto, you add all of the ingredients at one time, except for the olive oil.
- Once all of the ingredients for your pesto are in the blender, pulse it slowly while drizzling the olive oil into the mix.
- Now that you have added all of the oil pulse the mix for another 30 seconds. Then it’s time for dinner.
Like pesto made with a food processor, you can store blender pasta in an airtight container, and it will keep for a week in the fridge.
Blanch your basil before blending
For an amazing pesto that is creamy and keeps the bright green color of the leaf, blanch it first. Blanching your basil first will give your pesto a completely different quality.
- To blanch your basil leaves, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- While the water is coming to a boil, fill a large bowl with ice and water.
- Place your basil leaves in a strainer or colander, dunk them in the boiling water, ensure that all leaves are covered, and leave for 15 seconds.
- Immediately dunk them in ice water to stop the cooking process.
- Blend them with the other ingredients using the same process you would when making pesto in a blender.
You can grind the basil with a mortar and pestle.
A mortar and pestle is the method used by our ancestors to make pesto and is still a method of preference used by many cooks. Besides, if you have one, a mortar and pestle can sit on your counter and is much easier to clean than a food processor or blender.
Besides a good sharp chef’s knife, a mortar and pestle is the best way to make a small batch of pesto. However, pulling out the electric devices for big batches will speed things along. You crush the leaves, not chop them, when using this method. However, if you only want a serving or two of pesto, it is the way to go and has a different profile than chopped basil.
Process of making pesto with a mortar and pestle
- Place the garlic cloves and a bit of salt in the mortar, and grind it to a creamy consistency.
- Begin by adding basil, a few leaves at a time, and work them into the mix as you go.
- Add in the pine nuts and grind them into the mix.
- Now stir the oil into the mix and put a light layer on the pesto. This will help keep it from turning brown.
Why do you want to know how to make pesto?
Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow. You can grow it in a window, on a patio, or in your garden. With the price of food as high as it is, growing food inexpensively is a goal everyone can meet with pesto.
Along with basil, garlic is not difficult to grow and will also grow in containers. So there, you have two main ingredients for pesto that you can grow yourself. With several other ingredients, a chunk of crusty bread or pasta, dinner will be simple, inexpensive, and nutritious.
Is basil nutritious?
Sweet basil, the variety of basil used in pesto, provides vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants for your diet. However, basil isn’t the only ingredient in pesto.
A serving of pesto also includes fat, trace sugars, carbohydrates, and protein. Overall, it is a healthy food as an addition to pasta, for a sandwich, a dollop of potatoes, or even a steak.
Pesto is easy to make and requires only a few ingredients, and you can whip it up in just a few minutes. If you have never used the basil that you grow in a batch of pesto, now is the time to start.
Whether you chop basil for pesto with a knife, use a blender, food processor, or the ancient mortar and pestle method, you will always have a nutritious snack at the ready. Not only will fresh pesto keep in the fridge for a week, but you can also freeze it for up to six months.