This recipe for Grandpa Ben’s Pesto comes from Marisa Kerkvliet, daughter of Inspiration Farm farmers. The farm, which is a “beyond organic farm” practicing both biodynamic methods and permaculture, is participating in the Sept. 13 Whatcom County Farm Tour.
“Grandpa Ben passed this recipe on to my dad and we have faithfully been using it for my whole life and probably longer,” Kerkvliet says. “For as long as I can remember every summer we have gatherings with friends where we spend hours making great quantities of pesto together. We store it in the freezer and it is now one of the pantry staples on the farm. Whenever we are stumped for what to make for a quick week night dinner the answer is nearly always ‘pesto pasta with smoked salmon!’ It is great to add to so many dishes and it really reminds me of my childhood. It can be fun to make with friends and even kids can get involved in picking the basil leaves off the stems and measuring ingredients.”
Kerkvliet says she has always loved to kitchen work, but discovered her love for cooking when she was about nine years old and made her first cherry pie.
“When I was in eighth grade at the Waldorf school I decided to write a cookbook with my original recipes. Though that book was never published it strengthened my love for cooking and helped me realize that I definitely want to work with food in my future,” she says.
Now 18 and about to attend Bastyr University to study nutrition and culinary arts, Kerkvliet is blogging at honestmeals.net, sharing her recipes and thoughts on food in our culture.
She says the hardest part of preparing this dish is making sure the garlic is well blended. She suggests blending the garlic with the nuts and the oil before adding the rest of the ingredients to ensure that everything is chopped finely or adding the garlic to the food processor after it has been pressed through a garlic press or chopped finely.
She blanches the basil first so it keeps its bright green color. “But if you don’t mind if your pesto turns slightly darker when it oxidizes, then you can skip this step,” she says.
Kerkvliet says her family likes this sauce because it is so versatile.
“We often eat it in a salad with pasta and grilled summer vegetables, but it is also really great on grilled salmon or chicken or as a spread for any grilled sandwich. One of my favorite ways to eat pesto is spread over a toasted baguette with a slice of fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomato.”
Grandpa Ben’s Pesto
2 cups packed basil leaves
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil (Use the good kind here!)
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¾ cup chopped nuts (Traditionally pesto is made with pine nuts but we often use walnuts or hazelnuts because they are more cost effective and we can find them locally.)
6-8 cloves of garlic, the more the better!
½ teaspoon salt or to taste (It really depends on the saltiness of the cheese and the nuts.)
Boil 2 cups of water in a small saucepan and submerge the basil leaves for about 30 seconds, then transfer them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. It is very important to get rid of as much excess water as you can so that the pesto does not become soggy. (You can wring out the leaves through a clean kitchen towel or a triple layer of paper towels.)
Combine all of the remaining ingredients with the basil in a food processor or high powered blender and blend until smooth.
This sauce can be eaten fresh or frozen in serving size portions and stored for months.
This recipe yields about a cup and a half of pesto.