What is Pesto?
Pesto is a blend of fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, salt and a little olive oil. It’s a delicious and versatile sauce that can be a great pantry staple. Homemade pesto is easy to make and tastes better than anything you buy at the store. The best part is you can freeze fresh pesto then use it all year long.
On a busy weeknight you can defrost pesto, mix it with some chicken and fresh vegetables and have an easy delicious dinner ready in minutes.
Eating more real food is a great goal that at times can feel too broad to wrap your head around. Making, storing and then using fresh pesto is a great example of a small, tangible step you can take toward that goal.
Let me show you how easy and fast it is to make and then freeze fresh pesto. The entire process should take you less than 10 minutes from picking basil to closing the freezer. Here is how to do it.
How Do You Make Pesto?
The word pesto comes from the Latin word pestle. The official old school way to make pesto is to grind up the ingredients using a pestle and mortar. I’m sure that tastes delicious.
Modern life generally does not afford us the luxury of excessive leisure time. Sometimes you have to push the easy button. That button in my house involves a food processor.
To make one serving of pesto you will need the following ingredients:
- 1 packed cup of fresh basil leaves
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts, roasted for 10 minutes
- 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/8 teaspoon of salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
Here are the steps to take.
Step 1: Mince the Garlic
The first step is to mince your garlic into a small bowl. Read this article to learn why. Do this before you even start picking basil.
Step 2: Add the Basil
Add the basil leaves and pine nuts to the food processor and pulse several times.
Step 3: Add the Cheese
Add Parmesan cheese and pulse again. Clean the sides of the food processor with a spatula.
Step 4: Mix in Oil
While the food processor is slowly running mix in the olive oil. Scrape the sides one or two more times and pulse until the pesto has a smooth consistency.
If your food processor doesn’t have that option just add one tablespoon, blend, then add the second and blend again.
Step 5: Blend in Salt and Garlic
Blend in the salt and garlic.
That’s it! Now you can empty your freshly made pesto into a container and use it for dinner or get ready to freeze it.
Here are a couple of other tips.
Roasting the pine nuts for 10 minutes in a 400 degree oven helps to enhance their flavor. Give that a try to change up the taste a bit.
Fun fact – many ingredients in pesto are interchangeable.
For example you can use Asiago or another hard cheese instead of Parmesan. Some people like to use walnuts or cashews in place of pine nuts. And you can use anything from carrot greens to spinach and even kale in place of basil leaves.
How to Freeze Pesto
Coming back to our original question: can you freeze pesto? Yes!
The above recipe makes one serving of pesto. That’s enough for one full meal that serves four people. You can double the ingredients if you want to make a larger batch.
I try to make several servings of pesto at once and then freeze them all individually.
There are two methods you can use to freeze pesto. Some people like to freeze it in ice cube trays. To me this is cute but kind of a waste.
I generally use pesto as the sauce for a meal and would end up using the whole bag of cubes anyway. Here are the two best ways to freeze pesto.
How to Freeze Pesto in Ice Cube Trays
If you want to try the ice cube tray method, simply spoon fresh pesto into each part of an ice cube tray. Cover each filled cube with a small amount of olive oil, then cover the tray with plastic wrap.
Place the tray into the freezer for 24 hours. Remove each frozen cube into a Ziploc bag and place them back into the freezer. Date the bag if you have a tendency to freeze then forget things!
How to Freeze Pesto in Containers
Instead of freezing pesto in individual cubes, I use freezer safe containers like these. Fill each container with as much pesto as you need for one recipe.
There is a trick to keep it from turning brown in the freezer.
Add a light layer of olive oil on top right before your pesto goes in the freezer. This helps protect against oxidation. That is the same process that causes avocados to turn brown.
Pesto Health Benefits
Fresh pesto provides many health benefits. Olive oil is rich in unsaturated fatty acids. Pine nuts are high in magnesium, vitamin K, and vitamin E. Garlic is being studied for many potential health benefits.
Fresh basil is a great source of vitamin K. It also full of plant based compounds called flavanoids that are being studied for their anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial effects.
Add up these benefits and pesto is a healthy food choice.
Here is the rest of the nutritional information for my recipe above. Remember these calories will be divided by four if you make a dinner for four people or keep some food for leftovers.
How Long Does Fresh Pesto Last?
Fresh pesto will last for 5-7 days in the fridge. Store it in an airtight container to help prevent it from turning brown.
Using Frozen Pesto
Now that you know you can freeze pesto, you probably need some ideas of what to do with it.
The night before I plan to use frozen pesto I will move the container or a couple of cubes from the freezer to the fridge.
The cubes are best for making sandwiches. Let them defrost in a small bowl then add some pesto to your sandwich. Pesto is also awesome on grilled cheese.
Our favorite way to use pesto is to mix it with some whole wheat pasta, grilled chicken, lightly sauteed cherry tomatoes (from my garden of course) and zucchini. Yum! I usually mix a little fresh feta cheese in there as well.
Pesto can also be used as a sauce on pizza, as a dip for appetizers, and mixed with some vegetables and shrimp in a stir fry.
You may be wondering why I go through all this trouble when you can buy pesto at the store. Who cares if you can freeze pesto.
Every spring when its time to plant tomatoes I also plant a whole bunch of basil seeds. I do this for two reasons.
One is to make pesto in August and September. The second is because basil and tomato are the perfect companion plants in the garden and grow well together.
Around August 1st there is generally enough basil to harvest and make my first batch of pesto. If you do it right you can harvest again mid month and then around labor day.
Pesto made from fresh, in season basil that you harvested right from your garden tastes amazing. And you will have more than enough frozen to last until next summer.
Please share if you have any other tips or tricks for using pesto in the comments.
Yes! Most of the calories in pesto come from the unsaturated fats in the olive oil and pine nuts. Basil and garlic are a source of flavanoids which are plant compounds that are great for our bodies.
Yes! Not only can you freeze pesto, you absolutely should. Leave out the Parmesan cheese and cover the top of your pesto with a layer of olive oil before you freeze it to prevent it from turning brown.
You can use frozen pesto to add flavor to sandwiches, make grilled cheese taste even better or use it in place of tomato sauce in your favorite pasta dish.
Fresh pesto should be used within 5 to 7 days of when you make it. Frozen pesto will last for 6 to 12 months in the freezer. It will do best if you can keep it in a deep freezer or one that is not used as often.