Secret Revealed! The Quest for the Secret of Really Green Pesto, Part 2

The Results:
Making pesto can be a slightly messy job. Making two separate batches of pesto is a very messy job—especially since I was trying to get them both out on the table at the same time. I was reminded once again that I am incapable of toasting pine nuts on the stove without completely forgetting what I am doing and burning them.

I decided to try the blanching experiment first, since it was superhandy to use the same boiling water for blanching the basil and then cooking the pasta. The first thing I noticed was that a quick blanch did turn the basil nice and green. The second thing I noticed was that two cups of raw basil, blanched down into a handful, went through the blender really quickly and smoothly (unlike raw basil, which you have to kind of push into the blades until it really gets going).

I finished the blanched basil recipe and started on the Fruit-Fresh powder version. I used the exact same basic recipe for both, but this time, instead of blanching the basil, I added it to the blender raw and put in a teaspoon of Fruit-Fresh. While in the blender, and after moving them both to jars, they were both a bright and vivid green, and I couldn’t tell a difference.

But then I took two bowls of whole wheat pasta and mixed a different pesto into each bowl, and right away I saw a major difference. And I mean major. The Fruit-Fresh Pesto turned dark brown.

And the blanched pesto? It’s totally counterintuitive, and unless I saw it with my own eyes I never would have believed it. But blanching the basil was the clear winner. That pesto remained a bright, vivid green.

But now the true test was before us. The taste test! Some letter writers had shuddered at the idea of blanching basil, and insisted that it would ruin the taste. My husband, who is a—shall we say—skeptic, and who knows how impressed I am with visual stimuli, decided that I had to do a blind tasting. I closed my eyes, and he turned my plate all around so I didn’t know which pesto I was eating first.

Right away I noticed a chemical taste to the one I first tasted. Foiled again, my husband confessed that yes, it was the brown pesto. The blanched pesto tasted smooth, yummy and just like Mom’s great pesto, only greener! The true test results—as you can see in the picture—is that BOTH kids (ages 12 and 3) refused to finish the Fruit-Fresh Pesto, and devoured all the blanched pesto.

And now I am a complete convert to the basil blanching method of pesto.

Eve’s plate tells the story. All that’s left of the really green stuff is some cheese. The kids wouldn’t eat the brown stuff, and frankly, it left a bad taste in my mouth all night long.

Eve’s plate tells the story. All that’s left of the really green stuff is some cheese. The kids wouldn’t eat the brown stuff, and frankly, it left a bad taste in my mouth all night long.

Maria’s Very Green Pesto

Ingredients

2 cups washed basil leaves
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
½ cup olive oil
1 large bowl of ice water for blanching
1 pound whole wheat pasta (we like rotini)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
½ cup grated romano cheese

Directions

1. Start a pot of water boiling (for pasta and blanching the basil). Use a pot that’s big enough for a colander to fit inside.

2. Pinch the leaves of basil off the stems, if necessary; rinse, and put into a colander.

3. Toast the pine nuts on the stovetop until golden brown, try not to burn them.

4. Fill a big bowl with ice water.

5. When the water is at a good boil, dip the colander with basil into the boiling water for about 10 seconds. Stir constantly to make sure all the basil gets evenly blanched. Remove and let the water keep boiling.

6. Immediately dip the colander full of basil into the ice water. Stir to cool the basil quickly and evenly, them remove.

7. Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water.

8. Put the drained and blanched basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, toasted pine nuts, and garlic into a blender (I use a Vita-Mix). Blend until smooth.

9. If you are going to freeze the sauce, put this mixture into a jar, cover with a layer of olive oil, add a lid and freeze. You can add the cheese later when you heat it up.

10. If you are going to serve immediately, add the cheese to the sauce and mix together. Then add the pesto sauce to the pasta, mix, and serve!

Enjoy!

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42 Responses to Secret Revealed! The Quest for the Secret of Really Green Pesto, Part 2

  1. Maria (farm country kitchen) says:

    Actually, I don’t use oil to toast the pine nuts — just a cast iron pan toasted dry.

  2. Kate W says:

    WOW, I never would have believed that blanching the basil would work. I’m glad I saw the picture. I will try it today!-beautiful!
    Thanks for doing that.

  3. Becky says:

    I’ve never heard of blanching the basil for pesto. I made some pesto in my food processor two days ago with raw basil processor and it’s still bright green.

  4. Lisa says:

    Okay, going to try this if it ever stops raining and I can pick some basil!

  5. Kelly says:

    Can’t wait to try it tomorrow!

  6. Susan says:

    Have a garden full of basil, planned to make pesto tonight. I am definitely going to try blanching, never heard of anything like that before! Will report back on my results. The fruit-fresh pesto sounds nasty, nothing I would want to eat. Thanks for your experimentation.

  7. Ashley says:

    I would recommend making pesto in a mortar and pestle if you want the correct texture

  8. Shannon says:

    I am so happy to read this. I made 2 large batches of pesto this weekend. This first batch turned brown before my eyes. On the 2nd batch I blended the oil and nuts before I added the basil leaves. The color remained green but not vivid green. I will definitely give this a try and continue to follow your blog, thanks to my neighbor, Alice.

  9. Sande says:

    Have read in a cookbook to blanche the basil,but didn’t try it but will do a batch today,so glad I found you! Thanks

  10. Ruth Ann says:

    Very interesting, great info, thanks. I only knew one way to make pesto, but i guess there’s as many variations as there are cooks. This cook has never roasted the pine nuts, or blanched the basil. (btw, Fruitfresh is just ascorbic acid.) I think I’ll try the blanching method, but anytime I can keep from killing the enzymes in foods, I prefer it. Enzymes die somewhere around 132 degrees or some such, so I usually don’t want that result. But then, if I’m making pesto pizza or using it on hot pasta anyway, it sure would be nice to have it stay green!! Pesto on toast or sandwiches etc….what a great way to eat raw garlic and fresh basil!!

  11. Deborah C says:

    Maria,

    I asked my Nutritionist husband for his opnion on blanching vs. raw and this is what he had to say:

    ‘The oils are fairly stable; essential oils are routinely steam distilled. You may keep it a bit more green, but the vitamin loss is the variable. Since it’s frozen and with an olive oil base, there probably is little loss in storage. So it is more of a cosmetic option that may minimally lower the vitamin content. Is it a mostly raw food now?’

    Good to know,yes? Thanks for the recipe! I’ll be trying it soon.

  12. Laura says:

    I’m not really bothered by the “browning” of pesto but of course, bright colors are more palatable. As long as the nutrients stay the same (thanks for your input Maria….or rather your husband’s!) with the blanching then I’ll stick with the easiest/fastest method for convenience. But, for company and for fun, I will definitely try the blanching technique.
    I’m also interested in knowing if anyone has ever “canned” their pesto? I would love to have “fresh” in the middle of winter but none of my canning/preserving books discuss this. Can anyone help here?

  13. Maria (farm country kitchen) says:

    Frozen pesto in the middle of winter is one of the most delightful, delicious and quick and easy meals. I try to have at least 6 jars in the freezer by the fall…We all think it tastes just like fresh!

  14. Laura says:

    Thanks Maria!
    I’ll try that!
    Laura

  15. Judy says:

    I kept my copy of OG on the table to remember and check your blog on the 1st. I grew up canning & freezing with my family, but we never grew basil or made pesto (not Italian–Czech :) ). I planted from a packet of mixed basil this year. lemon, anise, cinnamon, purple ruffle, dark opal, Thai, & Genovese. Looks amazing & smell terrific — but most are new to me & I haven’t tasted them all yet. Has anyone ever tried any of these in pesto?? Judy

  16. Kate says:

    I found that a fool-proof way to roast the pine nuts without getting distracted and burning them is to toast them in a toaster oven

  17. Fran says:

    I only have this problem, if I heat the pesto or use leaves that have had a touch of the Fall frost. Pesto shouldn’t be heated, just place it on pipping hot pasta. I let my frozen pesto defrost on the counter while I cook up the pasta or refrigerate it in the morning for supper. Pesto is a fresh light sauce that should only coat the pasta, never put it on like a sauce. If you don’t have pine nuts almonds work just as well. For a more colorful dish try sprinkling the top of the pasta with chopped tomato. Delish!

  18. Annette says:

    My pesto stays green when I make it and eat it fresh, it’s when it is frozen that it turns brown. Have you tried any yet that you froze. . .in that case did the blanching help to retain the green color?

  19. Anca says:

    Thank you! I’ve finally had home-made pesto that remained green on hot pasta and this recipe is to remain ‘the’ pesto recipe. On cold food, I don’t bother making pesto. Basil leaves, whole or teared into pieces, oil, nuts and cheese go well added separately.

  20. wendy says:

    I did a blind taste test between raw basil pesto and blanched basil pesto. My hopes of brilliant green pesto were dashed when I discovered that the blanched pesto lost a lot of its intense, strong, fresh basil flavor. So I’ve stopped blanching. BUT I’ve found a new way to get greener pesto. I’m adding french sorrel to the the ingredients and it stays greener and adds a lemony zing to the pesto. fabulous variation.

  21. alicia says:

    Can’t help to think of the nutrients lost in the blanching process. I blanch greens for freezing…but will give it a try…we add parsley as well and always thought THAT
    was the cause of the pesto turning brown…

  22. Pammy says:

    I have been making and freezing pesto for years and it always turned brown when cooked or exposed to the air. I tried this blanching recipe for the first time and I am THRILLED! My niece and I made over a gallon of pesto the other day and it is neon green, even frozen. I like to freeze part of it in ice cube trays and then pop them in baggies for when I just need a little (like for pizza). Thank you so much for the great tip. Can’t wait for the plants to grow back for my next batch.

  23. Judy says:

    I made a double batch of the recipe (didn’t blanch though, didn’t want to heat all that water for 4 cups of basil) my son & his wife brought over fish and veggies and he grilled them in foil packets with the pesto (6 servings, with only a small bit of leftover pesto). WOW!! The 2 & 3 yr old grand babies liked it too. It was great! daughter-in-law wants me so share any seeds I have left from the basil I grew this year. I will blanche any basil in batches I intend to freeze.

  24. Pauline says:

    I have a bumper crop of basil this year…yeah! I will be blanching some for the freezer; it will be so nice to have a taste of summer in the middle of our Michigan winter. Thanks for the fabulous idea.

  25. Mary in Iowa says:

    I’ve never had a problem with pesto made from raw leaves turning brown when frozen, but I always attributed that to the film of olive oil poured over the top of the pesto before putting the lids on the jars. The oil seals out air and prevents oxidation. I did have an interesting experience this summer. I’ve always grown “Genovese” basil for pesto. This year I also grew a variety called “Magical Michael” for no other reason than that I have a son named Michael. It turned dark while whirring in the food processor. I followed with a batch of “Genovese” and it remained the usual bright green. The brownish-green pesto tasted fine, but was not an appealing color. So variety may also have a bearing on color retention.

  26. Jack Kriel says:

    Thanks for the blanching info. Last couple of years I’ve harvested my neighbor’s extra basil and her Hamilton Beach $5 garage sale food processor and gone at it. As I make it the top layer of the last batch turns forest green while the rest keeps itself bright green. Then I put batches into 1 qt freezer bags and freeze it up.

    MY VARIATION: Add an equal amount of fresh spinach (this year I found a great source from a local organic farmer) and save a few pennies by substituting walnuts for pine nuts. Result: Friends ask for batches…

  27. Peggy says:

    I grow basil every summer and make tons of pesto – some we eat right away and some we freeze – and it has always turned brown when the air hit it – whether it was frozen or not. I love it anyway, but always wished there was a way to keep it green. I’ve tried the oil -on-top idea – which I’m not really sure changed anything except that it caused us to eat too much oil. I’ve also tried lemon juice, which I’m not sure made any difference and which, I read somewhere makes the browning problem even worse.

    Then last night, a very COLD January night here in Washington, DC, I got the urge for the summery taste of pesto, but had used up my freezer stash, so I used some fresh basil that I found at Whole Foods in one of those plastic boxes. Same recipe as always, except that I used almonds instead of pine nuts since that’s what I had, and guess what? It did not turn brown and what’s left over today is still bright green!

    SO – the question is: Might it be that the store-bought basil was a different variety of basil than what I’ve been growing and might that have made the difference?

  28. gina says:

    I’ve made large batches of pesto for several years (each from a single pot of basil grown on my urban balcony!) and didn’t even realize there could be a problem with it turning brown. Mine remains bright green, including the stash currently in my freezer, in cubes and in plastic containers.

    I use the leaves raw (ie, unblanched), plenty of garlic, and walnuts rather than pine nuts, as we prefer the taste – and don’t mind that they’re also cheaper! My BIG change is substituting chicken broth for half (or more) of the olive oil called for – makes it much less rich and oily, and more palatable for spreading on a cracker or sandwich. Try it, you may like it better, too!

  29. tirz says:

    wow, this recipe is great – just amazing. so yummmmm and perfectly green :) I could eat this every day…thanks so much – it’s really worth making!

  30. marc says:

    Well, I’m glad I found this blog. Here’s my experiences:

    Of course I found this blog because I searched for “pesto turns brown”. I’ve been making pesto and freezing it for later (winter) use for years. I have ALWAYS had it discolor a bit but it always turned dark green, I was used to this. But this years “batch 1″ turned brown as soon as it hit air and did so even more quickly once it hit the hot pasta. Yesterday I used some of frozen batch 1 and got the same brown color. Freezing does not help. Tastes OK though, as good as frozen can taste and still better than anything that I have found ready made in a store.

    So I have to ask myself what was different in batch 1?

    The basil was different variety than normal. Almost adult plants were available cheap so I got 3 pots.

    Much of the basil was older on the plant than I usually use. A bit tougher. The stems of the plant were just beginning to turn “woody”.

    I used less spinach (normally 30% to 40 %), just a bit. I like to use spinach partially because it seems to add to the color…and the kids need it!!!

    I remember being in a hurry and not drying the basil as well as usual after washing. I thought while making batch 1 and seeing turn brown before my eyes while doing so that this had something to do with it.

    I don’t like the idea of adding ascorbic acid regardless of form, lemon juice or straight vitamin C but may try this to see if I can preserve the color with out altering the sweet taste of the pesto I like. I use pecans instead of wall nuts specifically for their relative sweetness over sometimes bitter wall nuts. There goes my secret ingredient!!!!

    I recently read the ingredients of the COSTCO brand and it has some kind of vinegar in it, maybe to help with color preservation? That was enough for me not to try it.

    I will likely try the blanching idea to see how it works out.

    Unrelated pine nut tip:

    As all us pesto makers know, pine nuts are EXPENSIVE. And the price has gone up dramatically lately, so much so than many suppliers currently do not carry them. Add to that the “oxidized pine nuts” controversy of Chinese products and you have a real problem.

    I can’t do with out. I add some roasted to the pesto I make and add liberal amounts of whole roasted pine nuts over the finished dish.

    So I found a place on Amazon that was selling 2 pounds of pine nuts for some ridiculously low price, it was less than $ 33.- including shipping, and they got here a few days after ordering. I thought even if these are oxidized Chinese pine nuts, it’s worth a try since this would have only gotten me a few ounces at the local store.

    The first order got here and was so darn fresh the nuts still smelled like a pine tree. No oxidation. Just good product.

    I thought maybe I just got lucky. But the next batch I ordered a month and a half later was just as good. Nuts were were smaller but just fine.

    Not everyone who has ordered from them was as happy as me by the feedback they left but I sure was!!!. I won’t mention the name of the place, you can figure it out. Just though I’d share.

  31. Stephen says:

    Wendy is 100% right, much of the flavor is lost in this process. Although the result was a beautiful, long-lasting green, the pesto was about 1/2 as strong as it normally is. Another trick (which works okay, but not as well) is to cover it with saran wrap, pressing the saran wrap into the pesto, essentially not allowing air to come into contact with the mixture.

  32. Anna says:

    I just wanted to let you know how well the blanching technique worked for me. I did find the flavor too bland for me and essentially quadrupled the basil amount. I would also nix the lemon juice next time. We made a non-blanched pesto recipe and it was brown almost instantly. Yay for blanching! Thank you for this tidbit.

  33. Andy says:

    Last summer I picked a vast quantity of purple basil from the CSA and made it into pesto.
    Now it wasn’t green, but tastes the same as classic pesto, I froze some with the olive oil skimming the surface method (thinking since I’ve always done this with the “green kind” perhaps it also helped with preserving the flavor), and over the winter added it at the last minute to my tomato sauces (color didn’t matter).
    It was magnificent!
    I have tried several batches this summer with different nuts (pine nuts here are out of sight price-wise) and even made a batch for the 4th of July with cashews (my son’s girlfriend Robin can’t eat any nuts but cashews) and it went like wildfire!
    Now I use them frequently and find I can ‘cut back on the extra virgin olive oil, due to their richness!
    I also use the tender stems of the basil along with the leaves, my food processor chops them up beautifully along with the other ingredients.
    I love the ideas your blog responders have brought up – adding spinach, parsley, french sorrel, – seems like ‘Pesto now refers to the flavored nut/cheese/leaf/garlic/oil – paste/sauce now and not the original Italian sauce produced in a morter and pestle…
    I love the way this flavor combination has ‘morphed into something new, and still beloved!

  34. Robert Bilenchi says:

    There is a much better way to make blanched basil pesto than using boiling water. Much color and flavor is left in the blanching water and thrown out. TRY THIS: use a double boiler to heat water in the bottom part to a boil. Put all of the oil in your recipe in the top of the double boiler; when it heats up add the basil in small batches. Leave the basil in the hot oil just enough time to allow to wilt (about 20-30 seconds). remove the basil with tongs and put in a bowl. Repeat until all the basil is wilted. Allow all the blanched basil to cool and then process with the other ingredients in a blender. This pesto will be bright and green and will not darken and will last in the fridg for months. Genious!! Try it.

  35. Mary Minneapolis says:

    Best Pesto I’ve ever made or tasted in my life (and I’m Italian!)…I used the last bunch of basil from the garden (here comes winter), added chicken, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. Splendid.

  36. Harmony says:

    Wao OMG am xo hapy 4 discovering dis blog

  37. Shannon says:

    This is just awesome! Luved reading your test on the pesto…had to sign up for our email blog! Thank you!!!

  38. Stephenville says:

    Your post sucks. Mines better! ..lol. Just kidding.
    Just getting into this blogging thing myself, though I don’t think anyone actually reads my posts. Does it come easier with time?

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