Istanbul is an amazing place! If you can’t tell from the pictures, come visit for yourself. I could spend years here and not be able to see everything. On Saturday all the exchange students (there are about 200) were bussed to Sultanahmet in downtown Istanbul. (There really isn’t a downtown Istanbul, but this is the touristy area) We were herded into a restaurant for lunch which was delicious as usual and then split into mentor groups to tour the historic sites. We went to 4 places during the day (I included a map of where we went for reference). First our group went to Topkapı Palace ( A ) where the sultans lived before building a European style Palace. Next we headed to Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya in Turkish—B). Hagia Sophia was built in 393 and was first a Greek cathedral, then a Roman Catholic Church and the a Mosque from 1453-1931 when it was converted to a museum for the public. After Hagia Sophia we went to the Blue Mosque ( C ), so called because of the amazing tile work on the inside. This mosque is a still a mosque, but can be toured by the public. We also stopped by the Basilica Cistern, though I decided to come back another time to see it. Afterwards we made our way to the Grand Bazaar. This was my favorite because it reminded me so much of shopping in Mexico. Check out my pictures below and ask any questions that you might have.
I need to preface this post with the fact that pesto is my favorite food on the planet. I almost always order something with pesto at restaurants even though I can make it at home in under an hour. I also tend to eat it with everything including bread, crackers, pasta, carrots, other veggies, and even by the spoonful. Yes, it’s bad. But I can only make it fresh for about 3 months during the summer, so I justify it that way. Today, I am going to share my recipe with you. Originally it is from Epicurious, but I like my alterations better.
Start with fresh basil leaves. Each batch needs 4 packed cups. I grow my own basil plants and am able to make 3 batches of pesto at a time when my plants are full grown and healthy. I usually grow about 10 plants from seed each year. I should also mention that adding in extras like rosemary, mint or parsley, give the pesto different flavors. I usually slightly decrease the amount of basil leaves depending on how much of the other things I add. They can all be blanched as well to break down their woody structure.
One of the interesting things about this recipe is the blanching of the basil leaves. For some reason, it makes the pesto very smooth and also helps it stay a fresh green color. I boil about half of a pot of water and start blanching. Because basil leaves are slightly fragile, they only need to be in the water for about 10 seconds. I use a slotted spoon to gather the leaves and transfer to my bowl of ice water.
The pyrex bowl is my ice bowl. The basil leaves go straight into the ice bath and can sit until all four cups have been blanched. At that point I strain them in my colander and let them drip while I prepare the other ingredients.
Here is the basil after it has drip dried.
Pine nuts really make this recipe. I tried making pesto with almonds about a week ago and the texture just wasn’t right. Unfortunately, pine nuts cost a small fortune, so I always get my mom to buy them (Thanks mom!) Another way to do it is estimate how many batches of pesto you can make and buy them at a bulk foods store to get exactly how much you need (1/2 cup per batch). As Lizzy and I discovered, pine nuts greatly improve when toasted as well. I toast them in a frying pan while continually stirring them so they don’t burn. It goes FAST!
Cheese also makes this recipe delicious. I have found that combining the toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic (I LOVE garlic so I add lots) makes it really easy on the food processor once the basil is added.
This is what it looks like after being pulverized. I should mention that my mom has THE BEST mini food processor ever. It is a Sunbeam Oskar brand and holds about 2 cups, the perfect fit for this pesto recipe. I highly recommend getting a small food processor if you don’t already have one.
After mixing the garlic, pine nuts and cheese, I add the 1/4 cup of olive oil. The original recipe calls for 3 extra Tbls, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Puree this in with the nut/cheese/garlic mixture.
Now it’s time to add the blanched basil leaves (and anything else you decided to throw in). I usually add about half of the basil, blend it up and then add the rest. It gives the food processor a little less work to do.
After roughly mixing it, your pesto should look like this. I like to use a rubber scraper (some people call these spatulas), to get the unmixed ingredients down from the sides of the processor. I also get anything out of the lid. And then I keep pureeing it.
When fully mixed, this is what it should look like. Now comes my favorite part: the taste test! At this point some salt and pepper are needed to bring out the flavors. I also sometimes add garlic depending on how it tastes.
Normally I add about 1/2 tsp of salt and a good dusting of ground pepper.
I remix, retaste, adjust if necessary and then package it for the freezer. I use small tupperware containers that used to be sippy cups from when my sister and I were younger. For this application I use the flat lids that they came with.
Pesto freezes well and can be stored for up to a year. None of my batches have lasted longer than this though, so I can’t be sure. ENJOY!
- 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed well (Packed does not mean squishing them all in to fit. It means grabbing a bunch and stuffing it in a measuring cup to see if, with airspace, it is a around a cup.)
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted until golden
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
- 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Have ready a bowl of ice and cold water. In a saucepan of boiling water blanch basil, a handful at a time, 2-10 seconds, transferring with a slotted spoon to bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain basil in a sieve and pat dry.
- In a food processor puree garlic, pine nuts and cheese.
- Add olive oil and puree.
- Add blanched basil and puree.
- Taste test!! Add salt and pepper and more garlic if needed.
- Package for the fridge or freezer.