A Cook's Plot

Side Dishes & Canapes

How to Grow Basil in Winter - Homemade Basil Pesto

By this time of year, I really start to miss having a constant supply of fresh herbs like basil and dill to pick for cooking and although I’ve tried in the past to grow them from seed on the kitchen windowsill, the light levels are just too low in winter for them to really get going. But for Christmas last year I was given an Aerogarden - a clever little piece of kit that lets you grow herbs at any time of year. You sow seeds into small pods containing just enough of a growing medium for them to germinate, and then once roots form the plants start to grow hydroponically, using a water reservoir in the base. LED lights in the lid provide not only the equivalent of daylight (meaning that your mini crops will grow in even the darkest of rooms) but just the right amount of heat as well. I sowed my first herb seeds - dill, two sorts of basil, mint, parsley and thyme - in the first week of January and just two and a half weeks later good, healthy plants had formed (see photo below). By this week, in mid-February, there was more than enough basil to make a huge batch of pesto, several helpings of herby couscous using the parsley and mint, and jars of the quick dill-pickled cucumber recipe that I put in my very first blog post. So all in all that was a very good Xmas pressie, thank you!

I hadn’t ever made pesto before but now that I’ve tried homemade, I won’t be using bought pesto again in a hurry. What a difference in flavour! Here’s how I made it…


Serves 8

  • 80g fresh basil leaves
  • 100g toasted nuts (I used a mixture of walnuts, almonds and pine nuts that all need using up)
  • 50g parmesan, grated
  • 1 lemon, zest of half of it; all of the juice
  • 100ml olive oil


Whizz together the basil, nuts, cheese and lemon zest and juice in a food processor or blender until you have a rough paste. Then keep the motor running and gradually add the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste and you're good to go!

A Cook's Plot Tip

This freezes well - I put single servings into clingflim twists and then put them all in a freezer bag so that I can take out as many as I need each time.

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