September 22, 2012

How to Make Hazelnut Basil Pesto Freezer Cubes

If the Northwest is the land of blackberries, it’s also most definitely the land of hazelnuts. Or filberts. Take your pick. My friend and I once had a somewhat lengthy conversation at the farmers market with a filbert/hazelnut vendor about what to call these (freaking delicious) nuts. The woman made it sound like those “in the know” call them filberts. The thing is, though, I like the word “hazelnut.” It’s a pretty word, in my opinion, and I’m a sucker for pretty words. So I’ll probably keep calling them hazelnuts.

Whole Roasted Hazelnuts on Cutting Board

I may not be in the know about their name, but I looooove their flavor. These are my favorite type of nut. On the other hand, pine nuts—the type typically used in pesto—happen to be one of my least favorite nuts. I’m certainly not going to forgo pesto-making just because I don’t like pine nuts (which are very expensive anyway), so I decided to attempt some hazelnut basil pesto using the hardy basil growing in my garden and garlic and nuts from my local farmers market (yes, I purchased the nuts from the lady who’s probably judging my vocabulary choices).

Because I like making big batches of foods to preserve rather than just small batches for right-away consumption, I got out my ice cube trays for this project. Pesto cubes are simple and fabulous, and when you have a bag of the cubes in your freezer, you can grab one and toss it into almost any dish for added flavor. Grab a few cubes and you have a nice flavor base for a pasta dish.   

Here are the oh-so-easy instructions for these hazelnut basil pesto cubes. You can easily play around with this recipe. If you like pine nuts, almonds or walnuts, substitute the hazelnuts for one of those options. You can even try other herb combos instead of using just basil. I made three batches of this recipe, but the amounts here work well for each batch because of how much stuff will fit in a standard food processor.


2/3 cup roasted hazelnuts
3 cups whole, fresh basil leaves
2 to 4 cloves of garlic (depending on your level of devotion to garlic)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ground salt and pepper, to taste


Food processor
Ice cube trays
Freezer bag or another freezer-safe container


Add all ingredients but the olive oil to your food processor and process for a couple of minutes. 

Making Pesto in Food Processor with basil, garlic, fresh ground pepper

Scrape sides of food processor with a spatula and then turn back on and begin slowing pouring olive oil through your processor’s top opening. Process until smooth and then do a taste test. Think it needs more salt? More garlic? Add to your taste and process a final time.

Next, spread the mixture into your ice cube trays and put them in the freezer. The next day, pop the cubes out of the trays (you may have to use a small knife to loosen up the sides of the cubes if you have trouble getting them out) and put them in a freezer-safe container. Store in freezer for up to six months. (I say that, but, honestly, I’ll probably use mine for up to a year even if the flavor isn’t to maximum standards.)

Pesto Cubes in Freezer made with hazelnuts, basil, garlic
My cubes look pretty brown—instead of the bright green you’re used to seeing in pestos—because I didn’t remove the dark-brown skins from my hazelnuts and didn’t add any acid to the recipe (which can help the basil stay greener). I don’t often include extra food-prep steps for aesthetic reasons, but, if you prefer, you can skin the nuts by rubbing them roughly in some kitchen towels, and you can add a bit of lemon juice to the recipe to keep the basil leaves brighter in color. I think the recipe tastes delicious regardless of hue. (I guess I’m more discerning about pretty words than I am about pretty pesto cubes …)

Enjoy your cooking and experimenting! If you have a favorite pesto recipe, please leave a comment and let me know about it.

Photos by Shelley Stonebrook


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