Big Batch Freezer Basil Pesto

Harvested pesto in sink with garden snips

Mmmm…pesto. It’s one of our family’s favourite ways to enjoy basil. Here are my big batch basil pesto tips for adapting your favourite recipe and freezer storage.

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Growing Basil for Making Homemade Pesto

Ready-made pesto is convenient and available all year round, but it’s pricey and content varies widely. Making pesto can also be expensive if you have to buy all the ingredients, but using homegrown herbs (and a few clever recipe tweaks) will make a huge difference. Fresh herbs are always expensive, even in season, which is great incentive to grow your own, even just a small patch or pot!

Growing Basil

Basil is easy to grow, with the right conditions. Plants are happiest in warm sunny conditions with well-drained soil, and can be grown in the garden or in pots. I like to grow my basil plants from seed, but you can also grow from cuttings (it roots in water within a week or so) or you can buy seedlings for transplant.  

Regular pruning and pinching will help reduce leggy grown, and keep you in ready supply of delicious freshly picked leaves. 

Basil will try to set seed in hot weather, so keep pinching if possible. The flowers are edible, but the plants tend to produce and taste better before flowering. 

Basil Varieties for Making Pesto

If you’re growing for classic pesto, a large leaf Italian variety of basil is the way to go, but you can experiment with any variety. Fortunately for pesto lovers, this is the common form of basil sold as cut herbs in stores, and it is readily available as small plants or as seed. It may be marked as Italian basil, sweet basil, or by variety such as Genovese.

Young basil plants germinated from seed

Saving Time with Big Batch Pesto Prep

Prepping basil, blanching, toasting, grating, grinding, and mixing all the ingredients can be time consuming and messy, so pesto making is something I like to do as a big batch rather than small quantities for immediate use. 

Right about the time when the basil is starting to get away from me and I’m fighting to keep it from bolting to seed with heavy pruning is just about perfect, and the hard cut rewards me with another round of fresh basil growth. Win win!

Basil plants growing in garden

Tweaking Classic Pesto for Cost and/or Health

Classic basil pesto is made with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and black pepper. Simple and delicious.

To lower the cost and/or improve the healthiness of the (often rather naughty and salty) pesto, you can reduce the ratio of cheese and nuts to basil and/or swap some of the pine nuts for a less expensive alternative, such as hulled sunflower seeds.

I also like making my pesto with less oil and less salt than a classic pesto recipe. They can be added to a recipe during use when needed/wanted, but once they’re in, they’re in. The resulting pesto is still absolutely delicious, has an authentic flavour, and is more versatile (in my opinion) as it can be used as a thick spread or thinned into a sauce.

Making your own homemade pesto is an awesome option for strict vegetarians, vegans, or dairy-free diets as you can skip the cheese or swap for vegetarian/vegan-friendly alternatives. You can also swap or drop the nuts (or other allergens) if needed. You can experiment with padding out the basil with other greens, like spinach, but do so with care as these adjustments can alter the flavour. But you might also find new favourites!

Preparing Fresh Basil for Pesto Making

Prepping the basil is the only time consuming step, but so worth it! Since this takes a while, it’s very easy to toast the nuts (see below) and leave them to cool whilst working so that everything is ready and waiting for processing once the basil is prepped. Tips:

  • Harvest your basil in bulk (if using homegrown) and make your pesto the same day while it is at peak freshness.
  • Wash thoroughly and separate the leaves from any flowers, buds, or large stems.
  • Right before processing, blanch the basil leaves in small batches. Blanching is optional, but can help to create a greener pesto and keep it greener for longer in storage. The leaves only need 5-10 seconds in boiling water before their ice bath, so it’s quick work. It can also help smooth the texture of the pureed leaves, but may also mellow the flavour slightly. Since I like to have a higher amount of basil to other ingredients in my tweaked classic, I don’t find it detrimental at all.
Preparing fresh basil for making pesto

Making Homemade (Big Batch) Pesto

New to making pesto? If you’re not comfortable with estimation in making your pesto, any basil pesto recipe can be scaled-up to suit the volume of basil from your big batch harvest. Adapt (see above tweaks for cost, healthiness, and versatility) if/as you wish.

Toast Nuts and Seeds for Better Flavour

  • Toast your nuts for added flavour and allow to cool completely before processing.

Processing Ingredients for Homemade Pesto

  • Traditional pesto is hand ground; however, a food processor (affiliate link) is very helpful to make grating and grinding quick work, especially handy for big batches.
  • Don’t over process. Unlike smooth commercial pesto purees, I like retaining some texture in homemade pesto. Of course, it’s all a matter of personal preference.
  • By processing your ingredients incrementally, you can do all of your processing without needing to fully wash up until the end. If needed, it’s also helpful for making a much larger batch than your processor bowl might be able to handle all at once. I like to grate the cheese, then process the nuts and garlic, then the basil (adding some oil if/as needed), and then hand mix everything together before incrementally adding seasonings and/or additional oil to taste (mmmm…taste testing…).
Making big batch freezer basil pesto

Storage and Use

  • It’s a great idea of plan a dinner including pesto on the night you make it and enjoy some in all of it’s fresh glory. Yum! Refridgerate or freeze the rest of the batch.
  • Fresh homemade pesto doesn’t keep for long. It is best used within a couple of days, but it freezes beautifully. Read about how I freeze mine for easy use below.
  • Before longer storage, I like to cover and refrigerate freshly mixed pesto to chill for a few hours or overnight so that everything has time to meld in moisture and flavour for a final taste and texture adjustment before freezing. Totally optional, of course!

Freezing Pesto for Easy-Use Storage

Whether working with homemade pesto or leftover storebought pesto (most are use-by within days of opening), freezing is a good option for longer storage. 

You can freeze in small containers, dropped dollops on baking paper, thinly spread on a sheet to cut or cracked into portions, or (my favourite) in an ice cube tray. If you’re worried about losing some of the green colour the exposed surface before freezing, you can cover it with clingfilm or a little additional oil, but I just freeze straight up. 

Once thoroughly frozen, I remove the cubes from the tray and pop them into a bag or sealed container for freezer storage. Then I just defrost a few for use if/as needed. Yummy homemade pesto at the ready!

Freezing pesto in cubes for easy use
Big Batch Freezer Basil Pesto

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