Perilla pesto 青じそのペスト

japanese cake

Aojiso 青じそ or perilla is like mint, it re-seeds itself proliferating out of control. As you can see below, the perilla in our garden is no exception. Please note the way it terraced its growth this year so “everybody” got the maximum of the available sun. The basil (barely visible in the left back corner of the perilla patch) was being choked out. So my wife decided to harvest the tall “trees” of perilla surrounding the basil.

My task was to make something from the large amount of harvested perilla leaves and I decided to make “pesto”. Yes I know, it is usually the basil that gets made into pesto but in an effort to rescue the basil the perilla became the prime ingredient….somewhat ironic isn’t it? By-the-way this picture was taken after my wife’s harvest which despite its large yield made hardly a dent in the total crop.

After making the pesto, we first used it on top of buttered potatoes . This was quite good.

I also made pasta with the perilla pesto. Instead of spaghetti, I used thin Japanese Udon noodles. I cooked them as per the instructions on the package. I washed the noodles in cold running water. I warmed them up just before serving by soaking them in boiling water. I then drained them, and mixed in the “Aojiso” perilla pesto and garnished it with a mound of thinly julienned perilla.

Here is how I made the pesto. It is the same recipe I would use to make pesto from basil—I just replaced the basil leaves with perilla.

Perilla leaves and olive oil: My wife removed the leaves from the stems, washed, and dried (first using a salad spinner and then spreading on a dish towel, #3). The picture only shows a small part of the crop and, at the end, we had about 400 grams of perilla leaves (that is a lot!). I put the leaves in several small batches in the food processor. I streamed in enough extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) so that the leaves were all chopped up and a “pesto” consistency was reached (#4). I ended up using close to 750ml of EVOO (the entire bottle I opened).

Pine nuts and garlic: I used closed to 100grams of pine nuts and 6 cloves of garlic (about 30grams, skin removed and root end trimmed). I first dry roasted the pine nuts in a frying pan until the surface was very slightly browned. I placed the pine nuts and the garlic in the food processor and made a paste also adding a small amount of EVOO.

I then combined the ground-up perilla leaves EVOO mixture and the paste of pine nuts together in a large metal bowl (#5).

Parmigiano regianno cheese: I grated a wedge of P-R using a cheese grater (I used about 60grams) and mixed it in (#6). I seasoned it with Kosher salt in multiple increments as I tasted it (you can always add more later but you cannot take it back).

This pesto is very unique. The addition of olive oil, pine nuts and parmegiano cheese resulted in a taste quite different from what I would have expected from just ground up perilla. You could tell it is not basil but unless you are told you probably would not guess perilla. It has the nice fresh taste from the perilla and the other ingredients give it a complex taste dimension that is very nice and unexpected.
Using it as a topping for hot boiled potatoes (the second picture) was very good especially with the addition of butter and a bit more salt. The pasta of Japanese Udon (the third picture) was also excellent. We needed to add a bit more salt to the pesto for this dish, but addition of fresh perilla leaves as garnish made it clear that this was perilla pesto. The taste was as good as basil pesto.

We ended up with a large amount of the perilla pesto. I put a portion of the pesto in Ziploc sandwich bags, flattened them by removing as much air as possible. I then placed these in a larger Ziploc bag in layers and put it in the freezer. We had at lease 10-12 sandwich bags. Hopefully we will take it out during the winter to remember the summer bounty of our perilla…but we still have a lot of perilla left in the garden. We’ll be making pesto to last a decade.

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