How to Store Homemade Pesto Correctly
Homegrown basil is a staple to many summer gardens but storing it incorrectly can lead to an inferior product or botulism. I see many people on the internet sharing canning recipes for pesto that use oil. I don't know how many times I can say this, and I can't stress it enough.
CANNING WITH ANY OIL CARRIES A HIGH BOTULISM RISK! Even when pressure canning! DO NOT DO IT.
Botulism is a neurotoxin and there is no cure. Don't grow food to kill yourself or a family member because you want to save a few bucks and some summer flavor.
Freezing pesto in oil stores it correctly without the risk of botulism but if you skip simmering it, the enzymes in it will erode the quality of the basil and turn it brown. Have you ever frozen a banana and a few weeks later it turned all gooey and gross in the freezer? It is the same reason raw tomato product that gets jarred up and frozen gets all sticky and gooey on the top, it needs to be heated first. Active enzymes are still living and eating away at the cells in the food even under freezing conditions.
If you are wondering why you can buy canned pesto in the store that has oil in it, the answer is that the oil is often hydrogenated, and/or special high-temperature pressure cookers are used and microbiological tests are done on every single batch.
Here is how I make and store basil pesto for the winter months and it remains as green and as fresh as the day I made it.
Salt & pepper
Blender or food processer
Salad spinner or paper towels
Medium size skillet
Vacuum seal bags
I pick my basil after the rain. It's just something I like to do because it seems to me like the basil is more crisp and fresh and can hold up better for washing. Young plants are best to use but most of the time I don't get around to this until later in the season. I know it will make some people cringe but I am not Italian and this works for me.
I do not wash my basil with soap but I am not recommending you skip the soap. I think it gives it an off flavor. Since I am going to cook it I am not concerned about it. After all, we don't wash dried beans with soap before cooking them, we just rinse. I rinse each leaf very well and gently rub each one on both sides to be sure they are free of any debris. I spin the leaves in a salad spinner until they are dry. Pat the leaves on paper towels if you don't have a salad spinner. Excess water is a bad thing when storing pesto. Frozen water crystals can shatter the basil leaf pieces and destroy some of the texture which can cause it to seem slimy. This is why nobody freezes lettuce. However, it works great when freezing scrambled eggs because it shatters the fat cell conglomerations and makes for fluffier eggs.
I like pine nuts in my pesto and they taste best to me when they are roasted. I heat a skillet with a good deal of organic extra virgin olive oil just like you would do if you were cooking popcorn with lard or coconut oil on the stove (this means a good deal of oil). I add the pine nuts and simmer them in the oil just a little above medium heat. Watch them and never look away. If you walk away, even for a few minutes they will burn. They roast incredibly fast and need to be removed from the pan 5 seconds before you think they are done and dump them into a cool dish. They will brown just a little bit more while they are cooling. Stir them to disperse the heat and salt them while they are still hot if you like. I like a lot of salt. It makes the nutty flavor level up so the basil doesn't wash out whatever food you put it on.
Add your clean basil leaves and some cleaned whole cloves of garlic into a blender or food processor. If you have a food processor - don't attempt the blender. It is much more work. How much garlic you add is up to you. I don't like garlic to overpower my pesto so that it bites, and by bite I mean becomes spicy from the garlic. I will use three or four good size cloves for a blender or food processor full of basil leaves. Add some coarse ground pepper if you want to give your pesto a little heavier flavor. If you like the spice you can add some red pepper flakes now or when you reheat it. Do not add cheese as this makes reheating very challenging without it burning and sticking to things.
Add the warm pine nuts on top of the basil and garlic. They are oily and some of the salty pine nut flavored oil will drizzle down onto your basil leaves as it sweats them a little. That is pure goodness right there. Geez, that's a lot of pine nuts! I like it fatty! Good fats!
The last step with your blender or food processor is to turn it on. Fight with the leaves a little before adding any extra olive oil. Good pesto isn't drowning in olive oil. Try to use the moisture in the leaves and the greasy pine nuts to get your pesto to blend before adding excess olive oil to get it to chop. Don't over-chop or blend either! Making a homogenous mass by blending it into a paste takes out the excitement of the tasty bits. We aren't making basil-flavored nut butter here. Oil should not be floating on the top of your pesto. It takes a little practice but you will get the ratios to your liking the more you do it.
The most important part now is to simmer the blended mass for 3-4 minutes. This will stop the enzymes from ruining it while stored in your freezer and it will also remove just a little more moisture which will increase the flavor. I see I have some stems, I'll pick those out. Always remove all stems from anything and everything. They are bitter. It is sloppy culinary skills to leave flaccid stems in your food and it brings every dish down that you leave them in. Even if you think you can't taste them, your brain can detect the bitters, and turns off some of your pleasure centers.
Pan up your hot pesto. You want to get it to the freezer quickly. You can use ice cube trays if you like smaller amounts or leftover containers if you want big thin bricks of it. I like to use a lot of it at once and I don't ever put any hot foods into plastic because it releases toxins so I use a muffin pan. Cover your pesto with plastic wrap. I don't like putting plastic wrap on the warm pesto, but I have to give in a few areas. It still limits the plastic that touches my food. The plastic will keep freezer flavors out of the olive oil and if you forget about it for a day or two because you are busy, it's no big deal, the exposed basil leaves will not dry out and get weird.
Pop the pan in the freezer and fr