09/24/2009 01:15 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Quest for the Secret of Really Green Pesto, Part 1

The Challenge:

A few months ago (well, in the winter, actually), I mentioned in my Organic Gardening magazine column that one of my goals this summer was to discover how to keep pesto really green. Really, really, green. Like the kind you sometimes get in restaurants when it comes out on your plate, and it still has that neon-fresh color as if it hasn't been exposed to any air.

Pesto is one of my culinary specialties. Every year I grow lots of basil, and then one day in summer I make so much pesto that I freeze enough jars to last all winter long. All of my kids devour it, and would put it in their top 10 lists of favorite foods that I make. But we've all grown to expect that by the time it gets from the jar to the plate to the table, the color has turned dark and slightly brown -- which, when combined with whole wheat pasta, can seem like one of those meals that is better eaten without looking at it too closely.

I got many, many emails and letters from readers with suggestions for keeping pesto green -- many of which I had already incorporated into my recipe. I always add a bit of lemon juice. I always put a layer of olive oil on top of the jar to keep air from turning the pesto brown as it's freezing. I always made sure to use really fresh, perfect leaves, and I leave out the cheese when I freeze. But still, the amateur scientist in me wanted to know how the heck to keep my pesto bright green.

I received two suggestions that piqued my curiosity, and that I had never tried before. One suggestion, which I had suspected was the "restaurant secret," was to use a dextrose-based powder like Fruit-Fresh that is supposed to keep fruit and produce from turning brown. The other suggestion was to blanch the basil. Both ideas seemed like they would, at the very least, provide interesting results.

So this last Saturday night I headed out to the garden, picked a whole sinkful of basil, and started pinching off the good leaves. I warned my family that they were in for a scientific experiment, and to come to dinner prepared to offer their best, most objective opinions on the results.

Which do you think was the winning suggestion? To participate in our poll, visit Maria"s Farm Country Kitchen.

The results of the test will be revealed on my blog this Friday!

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