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From courtyard to table – basil pesto

I grew up with a “harvester”. Some people enjoy gardening; my mum isn’t a “gardener”, but she loves picking things from the garden and serving them that night. Grandpa was a farmer, and even though he left the farm before I was born, a vegi-garden prolific enough to feed family, friends, and anyone going through hard times is wired into our DNA.

I rent. And a vegetable garden requires more permanence (and soil) than I possess. It’s taken me years to make peace with paying for lemons, lettuce and potatoes. It’s taken longer to accept that fresh raspberries are an indulgence, not a food group. But here, in my lovely new oasis, my herb garden has finally flourished. And I have discovered that tomatoes can be grown in pots! When the season ends, I plan to experiment with rhubarb.


For the first time I have more basil then I know what to do with. I turned to my Maggie Beer for guidance. Maggie’s Harvest is a treasure trove. Structured by season, then by ingredient, I find it invaluable when I notice beautiful produce at the markets I’m unsure what to do with, or for reminding myself what’s actually in season in my privileged world of airfreight and refrigeration. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever cooked a recipe from it… But while Maggie’s palate is a sharp contrast to my own, her knowledge is vast and her writing as enjoyable to sink into as the master of cookbook

The logical solution to a basil glut is pesto.


Basil Pesto

100gm pine nuts

¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 large or 2 medium cloves garlic

1 cup firmly packed basil leaves

50gm freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

50gm freshly grated perino

Salt and pepper to taste

Squeeze of lemon juice


Dry roast the pine nuts in a frying pan over medium-high heat until golden, tossing to prevent burning.

Put ¼ cup olive oil, ½ the pine nuts and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blend to a paste. Don’t be tempted to add more garlic. When cooking I lean on the generous side with my flavourings; the first time I made pesto, I has a large clove of garlic and a medium clove and I used them both. It was a mistake. Basil and parmesan aren’t delicate flavours per se, but they will both be quickly overwhelmed by garlic. Remember, while you will be combining the pesto with hot things and that will take the edge off the garlic, the garlic is still raw, so much more over powering than in most sauces.


Also, if you don’t have the access or the budget for fancy expensive cheeses, 100gm of parmesan will do the job just as well.

Add the remaining pine nuts and pulse the food processor for a few seconds, so that the pine nuts remain in chunks.

Stir in the remaining oil. It is worth stirring in a small amount at a time, as depending on the basil you’re using and your own preferences, you may not need that much.


If you have a lot of basil, you can combine the basil, pine nuts and oil. Place in small plastic tubs and freeze. When ready to use, defrost the tubs in hot water, and add the garlic and grated cheese.


Pesto is a versatile ingredient, acting like a condiment in minestrone or tossed with greens, or combined with pasta for a great convenience food.  My first housemate frequently pan-fried sliced chicken breast and mushrooms, combining with penne pasta, pesto and a little cream and serving with steamed greens. I’m sure you have your own favourite use.

I personally am a huge fan of Spaghetti Genovese, which was one of the staples of my teen vegetarian years.


Spaghetti Genovese

– serves 1, but easily multiplied

1 baby potato, skin on, sliced.

75gm spaghetti


75gm green bean, ends off, sliced into 2cm lengths.

1 large spoonful pesto.


Half fill a saucepan with water. Salt. Bring to boil.

Add the spaghetti and potato, cook till almost tender.

Add the beans for a few minutes.

Drain, reserving some of the starchy water.

Combine the pasta, vegetables, starchy water and pesto.



What’s your favourite use for pesto?

Do you have any tips for courtyard produce that won’t upset the landlord?

I want to know.


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