Harvesting Basil for Pesto!

Last week I talked about harvesting in the garden, but so many times, I’ve forgotten about really harvesting in my herb garden. Sure, I’ll run out and grab some rosemary for roast chicken, or basil for a sauce, but to really get the most out of your herbs, you want to harvest them at their peak to enjoy them, but also promote new growth and a higher yield.

Herb GardenThis year, I decided to grow my herb garden in pots on the porch. I’ve planted herbs for years in a small section of the garden, but I find, often times, they get taken over by the bigger vegetables. Also, if you have hardy herbs, growing them in pots makes it easy to bring them in during the winter, enjoy them all through the off-season, and then taking them outside in the spring and already having a start on the garden. That’s what I did with my rosemary. It was great to have fresh rosemary all year, and when the weather warmed up, I took it back outside, and it’s been thriving since.

Basil PlantFor my herb garden this year, I have the above mentioned rosemary in addition to sage, tarragon, and Italian leaf parsley, which I started from seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. The seeds were great and the plants have done incredibly well. I’m really happy with them. I also have chives and dill that I took the short cut and purchased at my local garden center. They are also doing well, but for my favorite, I was lucky enough to have someone bring me back seeds from Italy last year. I’ve never had basil do so well, and I can’t quite figure out if it’s the fancy seeds or just luck this year.  Either way, the basil has been doing great, and it’s time to harvest some and, of course, make pesto!

Basil FlowerI’ve found that herbs start out strong, and look amazing, but they usually get to a point, about this time of the summer, where they start to get leggy and just don’t do so well if left alone. However, if you cut them back, and bonus, you get to use what you’ve cut, they come back for a second life. The other thing to look for is if the plants start to go to seed. If you start to see flowers on the plants, that means they’re putting all of their energy into reproducing. While this may be great if you’re looking to get seeds for next year, if you’re still looking to use the herbs and want a longer season, you want to snip these flowers off. I simply pinch off the blooms, and then make sure that I use that branch next when I need some of the herb.

Leaves ReadyAs you can see, I’ve cut a good bit off of my basil plant. I’m hoping to make 3 batches of my pesto recipe. Each recipe makes about a cup of pesto. One note, I prefer to use a food processor for this recipe. You can use a blender, however, I’ve found that you need to add all of the ingredients first, and it does need some stirring and help to get completely processed. If you’re using a food processor, follow the process I’m outlining below. To start, take 3 cloves garlic, peeled, and chop them up in the food processor. Next, add 2 cups basil leaves. You just want the leaves for this, and you want pretty packed cups. Whirl that around until the basil is nicely chopped, then add 1/4 cup pine nuts and Ingredients1/2 cup Parmigiano cheese, grated. Give that another quick whirl. If you let it go too long, it will come together, almost like a dough. If that happens, don’t worry, you’re still good. With the food processor running, slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil, and process that until it’s nice and smooth.

After I was finished with this batch, I made 2 more. If you’re making several batches, just start over. You really don’t want to double or triple the recipe, as it doesn’t turn out as good. But, the good news is, I don’t even wash the food processor in between. 🙂

If you’re growing herbs, I hope they’re as productive as mine have been this year! And if you’re not, stop by the grocery store and pick up some basil. Pesto is a great sauce to have on hand, especially in the summer for a quick pasta dish. Enjoy!


23 thoughts on “Harvesting Basil for Pesto!

  1. linnetlane

    Mmmmm glorious, fresh pesto is so tasty, you just can’t beat it!!! Congratulations on your good basil plant – you could let some go to seed to save for next year and guarantee tasty pesto for years to come 🙂

  2. M-R

    In Oz, basil doesn’t taste like it once did. You can buy a bunch that looks like that terrific shot of your at the head of this post, but the flavour … I must call it ‘medicinal’, I think. Presumably this is to do with how it’s now being grown in whatever places greengroceries buy it from; but I’ve made basil purchases just about all over Sydney and it all tastes the same – so strong that I can no longer make an insalata caprese !!!! How tragic is that ?!

  3. chefjulianna

    Hey Nick. Thanks so much for the great tips on maximizing our harvest of basil. I have often wondered about those little flowers! You pesto recipe looks so delicious and so easy too in the food processor. Do you freeze your pesto? We just got a freezer, so now I am wondering about all of the wonderful things that I will be able to freeze. Thanks so much for bringing your knowledge and wonderful recipe to FF! 🙂

    1. theoptimistichousehusband Post author

      I do freeze it and it works really well. I usually freeze it in 1 cup batches, just because that’s usually about what I need. Then just take it out at room temperature and let it defrost. So good, and easy!

  4. annainternational

    Fresh pesto was one of my greatest delights when living in Italy. I’ve made it at home but the basil just isn’t the same. Maybe you’re right about Italian seeds-I will pick some up next time I’m there!! Thanks for the tip!

  5. joyfill

    What do you do to your herbs so the bugs don’t come in your house too? That was my problem last time, all of the bugs (little flies) then traveled to my indoor plants.


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