A few years ago a friend gifted me a huge bag of fresh basil leaves from her farm so I quickly figured out how to make a large batch of pesto to freeze and preserve to use throughout the year. Basil is a soft leaf plant that can go from bad to good in a short amount of time so figuring out how to use it and preserve it is key to making sure it doesn’t end up in the compost or fed to the chickens! This week my friend gifted us another large bag of fresh basil leaves from her farm so we were busy in the kitchen this morning making pesto. I took a few pictures throughout the process so I could share with you all how we make and freeze pesto to use year round.
How to make pesto
-2 cups fresh basil leaves
-2-3 garlic cloves coarsely chopped
-1/3 cup pine nuts
-1/2 cup olive oil
-salt to taste, I use about 1/4 tsp of this type of salt
-1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- Step 1: Rinse the fresh basil leaves and remove any damaged leaves. Allow the basil leaves to dry or blot them gently with a kitchen towel to remove moisture.
- Step 2: Place the basil leaves, coarsely chopped garlic, shredded Parmesan cheese, salt and pine nuts in a food processor (we have one like this and use it all the time!). Pulse to chop. Scrape the sides of the food processor bowl to ensure all the ingredients are evenly chopped.
- Step 3: Carefully pour the olive oil through the top pour spout on the food processor while it is on to help mix and emulsify the oil and basil mixture.
- Step 4: If you plan to use the pesto in the next few days, keep it in an air tight container in the refrigerator until ready to use it.
How to freeze pesto
A little bit of pesto goes a long way so when I freeze pesto I like to freeze it in small quantities. I learned a handy trick a few years ago to use an ice cube tray like this one to freeze pesto. It works so well! Once you make a large batch of pesto, use a small spoon and scoop pesto into each ice cube slot. I fill the ice cube slot full but not overflowing.
Once the pesto is in the ice cube tray, give it a gentle tap on the counter top to help it settle and get out any air bubbles. Then place the ice cube tray in the freezer to freeze the pesto. I usually leave the pesto in the ice cube tray for about 24 hours to make sure it is frozen solid.
When the pesto is good and frozen, remove the frozen cubes of pesto from the tray like you would an ice cube. I place all the frozen cubes of pesto in a large plastic zip bag and keep it in the freezer. Then I can easily take out how many cubes I want when I’m cooking.
How to use frozen pesto
To use the frozen pesto, I get out how many frozen cubes I think I’ll need. I put them in a bowl and let them sit on the counter to thaw. Then I add them to whatever recipe I am making.
My most common use for pesto is a quick and easy meal where I mix it in with pasta tossed with shredded Parmesan, diced tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms and onions, and diced sausage. For this meal, I use two cubes of thawed pesto.
When making a homemade tomato pasta sauce, I put the frozen pesto cube in the tomato sauce to thaw and melt in the warm sauce.
For a flavorful spin on our homemade pizza, I make one of our homemade pizza crusts and spread some of our homemade pesto over the crust instead of using a traditional tomato sauce.
Homemade pesto variations
I like to experiment in the kitchen and have made some other types of pesto that stray from the “traditional” basil and pine nut mix. Here are a few options you can try to make a variation of homemade pesto:
- If I don’t have pine nuts on hand, I add walnuts or almonds into the pesto. This offers a slightly different flavor that is still quite delicious!
- Earlier in the summer when garlic scapes were plentiful, I made a homemade pesto by replacing the basil with half garlic scapes and half spinach. This made a delicious light green pesto with a tangy zip from the garlic scapes. It was amazing!
- Get creative and try making pesto with different greens such as kale, beet greens, spinach, etc. Here’s a recipe from Don’t Waste the Crumbs for Carrot Top Pesto and a recipe from Attainable Sustainable for Radish Leaf pesto. The possibilities are endless!