The Pot of Basil

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Dear Roundies,

As South Carolina shows its tropical side with muggy mornings and afternoon thunderstorms, our garden is doing well. The eggplants hang like purple comas throughout the garden, suggesting I pause in my daily labor and admire their bold, anime-like color. Most of the lettuce has bolted and is now almost as tall as me. Cucumbers hide their prickly faces behind leaves like an old man pulling the sheets over his face for a nap.

The one plant that is not doing well is our squash. The once sturdy and vibrant green stems are now wilted and yellow. Feeling like a CSI team, we have been scrutinizing the plants for any evidence of their killer. Unfortunately, this is destined to be a “to be continued” episode. We still have several suspects at large and no conclusive evidence. We’ve replanted some new squash plants, but for awhile at least, the mystery hit man/insect/virus has stolen a significant portion of your weekly share of squash.

Our basil, on the other hand, seems to have the opposite problem, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. We harvested over five pounds of it in one day, and there’s more to come. So, I figured this would be a good time to brush up on some basil recipes, storage tips, and a little basil legend.

Basil is known as the King of Herbs because of its centrality to so many of the world’s food cultures. Although most people think of basil as a Mediterranean herb, it is also a staple in Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Depending on the variety, basil can have anywhere from a pungent anise to a delicate lemony aroma.

Like many herbs, basil has its own peculiar legends surrounding it. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that, in order for the basil seeds to germinate, the farmer must yell loudly and curse as he was sowing his seeds. Similarly, the French saying “semer le basilic” (literally “to sow basil”) means “to rant and rave.” In Italy, however, a girl will place a pot of basil in her window, not to advertise her anger, but to tell her lover that he is welcome to come visit her. Leave it to the Italians to mix food and love.

Despite its mixed heritage of explicative-induced growth and come hither stares, basil is a relatively easy plant to store and use. The ways to use fresh basil could fill a cookbook, but we’ll get to those in a minute. First, let’s figure out what to do with your basil when you get it home. Repeat after me: Fresh basil should never be put in the fridge. In the cold, basil turns black and slimy. Instead, there are several alternatives, depending on how you are planning on using it.

If you plan on using the basil within a few days, you should trim the ends of the stems and place them in a few inches of water in a jar. Leave the jar in on your countertop, away from sunlight. If you change the water everyday, your basil should stay fresh for at least a week.

If you are wanting to preserve your copious amounts of basil, you have two main options. The first option is to preserve the basil in its pure unprocessed state for later use. To do this, you could dry it overnight in a low oven or in a dehydrator. Or, you could chop it up, press the leaves into an ice cube tray, top it off with water, and freeze it. Once completely frozen the basil cubes can be stored in a plastic bag in the freezer. A few basil cubes added to winter stews is the culinary equivalent of a beach trip in January and coming home with a golden tan.

The other option is: Pesto! This is probably my favorite way to preserve basil because it is so versatile. On rushed evenings, you can whip up a batch of Presto Pasta, so called because such an easy meal seems like magic. All you do is boil some pasta, drain it and mix in a few tablespoons of pesto. It’s also a match made in heaven with grilled or poached chicken. Or, you can mix it into a block of cream cheese for a great party dip. It also makes a festive Christmas gift if you store it in little jars. I’ve included a basic recipe for pesto at the end of the blog.

Now that we’ve covered storage of excess basil, let’s get back to that large plastic bag of fresh basil sitting on your counter top. Basil is truly one of my favorite herbs. One of my cats answers to the name Basil, if that gives you any idea. Because of this obsession, I have found ways of including it in nearly every type of recipe imaginable. I will lob handfuls of whole leaves into a salad, use it in lieu of lettuce on a sandwich, or toss some into my favorite smoothie (strawberry is especially nice). Once tomato season arrives, I plan on feasting on Insalata Caprese (the salad of Capri). This is the perfect summer recipe. It’s fast, fresh, and doesn’t require you to turn on your oven or stove.

Summer is an especially good time to experiment with this herb because you are getting (and will be getting) a bagful almost every week. Try adding it to some of your favorite recipes and see how you like it. Just keep in mind that basil will quickly loose its signature flavor when cooked. So, with hot dishes, add it right before serving instead of at the beginning. If you find a recipe that especially benefits from basil (or one that basil should never be added to on pain of death), tell us about it in the comment section. Consider this my pot of basil on the window sill welcoming your suggestions.

Eat Well,

Jana

These are some of my favorite basil recipes:

Basic Basil Pesto

  • 4 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed well
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted until golden, cooled, and chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Have ready a bowl of ice and cold water. In a saucepan of boiling salted water blanch basil, a handful at a time, 2 seconds, transferring with a slotted spoon to bowl of ice water to stop cooking. Drain basil in a sieve and pat dry.*

In a food processor purée basil with remaining ingredients** until smooth and season with salt and pepper. Fill jars and top with a layer of olive oil. To use, tilt the jar to uncover the pesto, spoon it out, the let the oil recover it. It will keep in the fridge for a few weeks. To freeze, see note.

*This step preserves the vibrant color of the basil. It can be skipped if you want.

**If you want to freeze the pesto, leave out the Parmesan. It is best frozen in jars with a layer of olive oil on the top. When you’re ready to use it, thaw it in the fridge, then mix in the Parmesan.

Caprese Salad

  • 2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes (about 4 large), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, sliced1/4 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh basil, washed well and spun dry
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • fine sea salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste

On a large platter or individual plates, alternate slices of cheese, tomato, and basil leaves. Overlap them for a pretty spiral effect. Drizzle olive oil over the whole salad and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Basil and Eggs over Foccacia

1 large loaf foccacia bread ( or any long slender type bread)
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon olive oil, or 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil combined with 1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 eggs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ cup grated Parmesan
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut the top off the foccacia and hollow out the bread inside. Tear the top of the foccacia and the inside bread into 1-inch pieces and save for the egg mixture. Brush the inside of the foccacia with the Meyer lemon olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and toast for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the basil, cheese, salt, pepper, and milk. Whisk lightly. Stir in up to 4 cups of the bread pieces.

Carefully pour the egg mixture into the toasted foccacia bottom. Return to the oven and bake until the eggs have cooked, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Cut the baked foccacia into 6 to 8 pieces and serve immediately.

Tomato and Watermelon Salad

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 beefsteak (or other large variety) tomatoes, stemmed, washed and dried
1 pint cherry tomatoes, stemmed, washed and dried
1 tablespoon chopped tarragon leaves
4 strawberries, hulled, washed and cut into very small pieces
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons superfine (or granulated) sugar
6 ounces cold watermelon, rind removed, seeded and cut into bite-size cubes

In a bowl, whisk together the balsamic, lemon juice, and olive oil. Taste for seasoning. Set aside.

Place the tomatoes on a flat surface. Cut the smaller ones in half and the larger ones into slices. Arrange all of them in a single layer, flesh side up. Season them with salt, black pepper and sugar. Drizzle the tomatoes with the dressing. Toss them with the tarragon and strawberries.

Arrange the tomatoes down the length of 6 rectangular plates. Drizzle with the remaining dressing and top with the watermelon. Serve immediately.

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Posted in Recipes and Round River Farms 8 years, 9 months ago at 4:46 pm.

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  1. Uncle Glenn Jul 14th 2009

    I tell everyone my niece is getting her fingernails dirty! Sweet corn sales are going strong here with a 40 doz order tonight, wish you were here to help pick. Love Uncle Glenn


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