Ever wonder why your homemade pesto turns a really unappealing dark green or near black color? Actually, I rarely make pesto in the Philippines, as I tend to find most if not all fresh basil here to have a really grassy taste, rather than the typical “sweet basil” taste of basil grown in more temperate environments. Not sure if it is the intensity of our tropical sun, the soil its grown in, or what, but basil here is less than ideal for pesto, in my personal opinion. I read an article once that even in Italy, the finest basil pestos are made with little “baby” basil leaves, from plants that are just say 5-6 inches in height when cut, and more often than not, grown in greenhouses. That’s a nice, ingredient centered way to start the sauce, but I have never found such leaves in the local markets.
However, every once in a while, I find really fresh and attractive bunches of basil and despite previous disasters, try once again to make a decent pesto. Such was the case today, when I spotted stunning looking basil at the Salcedo Market, for PHP30 for each robust bunch. I bought three bunches and hoped for the best. Back at home, I decided to try a trick I had heard/read about and quickly blanched my basil leaves in boiling water for ten seconds and then plunged them immediately into an ice bath. Made the pesto with blanched and toasted pili nuts instead of pine nuts as I had a lot of the former in stock, and a touch of lemon juice, garlic, salt and extra virgin olive oil blitzed up in a food processor. The resulting pesto was the most vibrant green I have ever made at home! Incredibly fresh and appetizing. It still tasted a bit medicinal, but better than most other versions I have made so far. I decided to bottle a portion for future use and stuck it into the deep freeze after putting a layer of oil on the surface of the sauce to seal in the goodness and hopefully preserve some of the color. Meantime, I made another batch for immediate use. Add the grated parmesan to the sauce before mixing with the pasta (do not freeze sauce with cheese already in it). So the the quick tip is… blanch your basil and shock them in an ice bath before proceeding with your recipe!