Using I.S. Skills to Make Pesto

For the past several years, my wife and I spend a day making large batches of homemade pesto to freeze for winter eating. We keep an herb garden near our patio and usually plant enough basil in the spring to reap a bountiful harvest by the end of August. Pesto is a versatile Italian staple that goes great in pasta, soups, or used in spreads for sandwiches. It contains just a few simple ingredients (the Italians wouldn’t have it any other way): basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, olive oil, and a little salt and pepper. As we were in the throes of laboring in the kitchen on Labor Day, I couldn’t help but think how my I.S. skills and experience in upgrades contributed to this herbal project. These weren’t, however, the technical skills I had learned (my food processor is not yet wi-fi enabled). The skills I used in this home project were process thinking, attention to detail, and iterating over time.

Process Thinking
In order to start with a couple of large basil plants and other ingredients, a step-by-step process had to be created to end up with pesto at the end. In addition, proper preparation had to take place to make sure all of the ingredients were on hand. I can relate this to getting ready for a big upgrade. In order to pull it off, you had to create your recipe. This usually included a combination of instructions from the vendor, which needed amended to fit your environment, your own in-house steps to complete, a list of steps to include prior to and following the upgrade, and testing. The same was true for making pesto. We started with a recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook; a staple for all households. There was a lot to do before and after making the pesto (setup and cleanup), and we had our own flair to the recipe we employed. Naturally, we tested the product after we were done 🙂
Attention to Detail
While we could have just thrown all of the ingredients into the food processor and hit liftoff, the results wouldn’t have been favorable. The same can be said for upgrades I completed in the past. Server processes needed monitored, scripts needs reviewed before execution, and verification by painstakingly reading log files must be done to ensure all steps were completed successfully. When making pesto, we ensured to wash all of the basil leaves and pick out the bad ones. When running through the food processor, the olive oil should be added very slowly so the herbs, cheese, and nuts can absorb the oil over time. Otherwise, it’s a bit gommy.
Iterating Over Time
I was confronted on more than one occasion why I needed so much time to complete an upgrade. My response was simply, “There are a lot of steps and waiting. I can’t rush it, unless you want me to risk something going wrong.” Over time, I learned that I could automate certain steps of an upgrade by creating my own scripts in advance and running some unrelated steps in tandem. It was process refinement through iteration. We make several batches of pesto and store them in small Gladware containers, so the food processor gets refilled several times. I learned that just refilling the food processor left the remnants of the previous batch. The oil, cheese, and bits of basil were left behind. Over a few batches, the pesto started to become a bit “muddy”. I realized that I needed to begin washing the food processor bowl after each batch. I believe iterating is learning. You can’t learn without making a few mistakes.
Pesto Tips
So where does all this pesto leave us? For me, it’s a step away from technology for a day (albeit this blog), time with my wife, and the creation of good, natural food to use for quick dinners. Here are a few tips to get you started in making your own.
  • Fill your food processor with (in this order*):
    • 3 cups of torn basil. Be Italian, tear it by hand. Using a knife bruises the leaves. We will sometimes mix in spinach or parsley to the basil for a different flavor.
    • 1/3 cup of nuts. Pine nuts are super expensive, although the traditional Italian ingredient. We have experimented with walnuts, pecans, and almonds. Just toast them in the oven on a baking sheet at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes to extract the oils. Let them cool prior to room temperature before placing in the food processor. If still warm, it will turn the basil leaves black.
    • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Not grated. Shredded works the best and don’t scrimp on this one. Buy some good quality cheese.
    • 2 roughly chopped cloves of garlic. Use fresh garlic. Don’t buy the minced stuff in a jar. It has preservatives.
    • Salt and Pepper
    • * The pesto processes better with the heavier ingredients (nuts, cheese, garlic) on top of the leaves.
  • Now, pulse all this together in the food processor and scrape the sides if need be.
  • Turn on the food processor and pour a slow steady stream of extra virgin olive oil for about 8-10 seconds  I wish I could tell you a measurement, but it’s all by feel. When the pesto is bound together, you have enough. It will be loose if you haven’t added enough oil.
  • Scrape the sides again if need be and pulse a few times to finish it up.
  • Taste and enjoy.
Cut basil from the garden
Basil plant after cutting

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