August is the time for tomatoes and basil in the North. Since my basil was eaten by bugs I get mine from the local Farmer's Market for $1/bunch.
1. Wash the basil. If you don't have time to deal with it right away put it in a glass of water just like you would fresh-cut flowers.
2. Grasp a stalk. Notice how the lower leaves are often dirty, dehydrated, or spotted with brown. Notice if the basil has started to flower yet (at the top).
3. Strip the leaves. Put young, strong leaves in a pile to be cut or blended. Put wrinkled, spotted leaves, buds, flowers, and stems in the Compost. Some people eat flower buds and stems in their pesto. I find the change in texture distracting.
Notice these leaves. The holes don't have to mean anything (other then some bug or slug got a snack). A lot of holes probably means the leaf is not as healthy as the others. Look for dehydrated, floppy leaves. Look for brown, gray, or white spots. Discard these.
Sorry about the picture quality, even with it you can see these leaves (from the top of the plant) are brightly colored, shiny, and they stand up on their own. Good basil.
4. Chop up the basil. There are a few ways to do this. You can get a knife or a other cutter and make small squares. Or you can toss it right into the blender or chopper. You chop it fine and then pound it together in a mortar and pestle.
The three methods will give you different textures in your pesto. Although it is more time-consuming the hand-chopping method will yield a brighter green (pressure changes the basil's color from bright green to a darker, more gray-green). It will also end up with small, individual pieces of basil. The blend method will standardize the pesto so that you can't see the individual ingredients, but it seems more mealy. Still, it's incredibly fast and easy. The mortar and pestle will give you something in-between with chunks that are blended and chunks that were clearly missed.
Pesto where the ingredients have been blended.
After some experimentation I personally like the hand-chopped (but no mortar and pestle) method. I like to feel the individual ingredients on the tongue and to control the amount of olive oil I'm consuming depending on the time of day.
1c of basil leaves
1/4-8-1/4c toasted nuts (pine, walnut)
1-2 cloves of garlic, toasted (D. isn't a huge garlic fan so we often skip or minimize this)
1/2c olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese (the good stuff) to taste
salt, to taste
This recipe also freezes well. Pour extra pesto in ice cube trays. Freeze. Toss in a baggie.
The cubes can be used in spaghetti sauce, alfredo, salad dressing, bruschetta, pizza. Highly recommended. Get your basil now while its in season and eat off of it until next summer.