Saturday, July 28, 2012

Basil - The Essence of Summer

Sensuous -  big, copious bunches of fresh, fresh, grown in your garden fresh aromatic basil - only available like this during the summer.  Yes - you can find it fresh in the market all year, but the whole thing about the growing of it -  passing by it in the garden and getting that aromatic whiff that entices you to close your eyes and inhale.  Ummm.  Or walking out your backdoor on Sunday morning just to pick a couple of leaves to add to your morning scrambled eggs.  And you can pair it with home grown tomatoes in so many wonderful dishes during this time of year.  This is the essence of summer in your garden. And it grows so well here in the WV!

All basils are partial to the nightshade vegetables – tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and are indispensable to Italian, Thai, and Indian cuisines.  It does so well topped on pizza, tossed with pastas,  spooned (with balsamic vinegar and olive oil) over a platter of sliced tomatoes and avocados, or on a classic caprice salad.  Here's a recipe for you to try that just screams summer - pasta with pesto, green beans, and fingerling potatoes - a classic dish from the Liguria Region of Italy.

Classic pesto – made with garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese and pine nuts, or sometimes walnuts  - with as many pesto recipes as there are cooks.   Some say it’s best to toast the pine nuts to bring out their nutty flavor, but I have had wonderful pesto omitting that step.  

The word ”pesto” is derived from the Italian word for pounded which implies that it should be made in a mortar and pestle.  I prefer to use the food processor basically because it simplifies the making, but according to Corby Kummer of the Atlantic Monthly  (Pesto by Hand) the mortar and pestal "produce a sweeter, more subtle flavor, creamier consistency and jewel-like color", plus it adds to the sensuous pleasures of hands on cooking.  Mr. Kummer  has written a fantastic article about  the history and origins of pesto as well as some interesting facts about regional Italian culture.

You can freeze it, dry it or I have recently found an interesting new idea for preserving it, which is probably an ancient method, but new to me.  Fresh basil salt, a simple technique from Silvia Thompson’s The Kitchen Garden Cookbook, is unique and could make a wonderful gift from the kitchen to any basil lover.

Fresh Basil Salt

Alternately layer even measures of unblemished fresh basil, bits of leaves, and blossoms with sea salt in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Start and end with a salt layer about ¼ inch thick, then make the remaining layers even (evenness isn’t crucial). 

Cover tightly and ignore until the leaves have dried – usually a few weeks. 

Then stir the jar, mixing the dried leaves with the salt.  They will have darkened, but they’re quite delicious. 

Use sparingly, because the flavor is remarkably intense.

You can use this method with any herb - rosemary, oregano, chives, marjoram, thyme, tarragon, summer savory, sage, parsley – and it would be fun to experiment with a combination of herbs.

UPDATE: 8/10/2012  -  After trying this recipe I found that you should remove the lid off of the jar occasionally so that the moisture from the drying basil has a chance to evaporate.  After a couple of weeks when the basil has dried - with the lid on the jar - vigorously shake the container so that the basil and clumps of salt have a chance to mix and separate.  It's pretty good stuff after that.  E

Basil - truly the essence of summer!

Life is good – bye for now!  E

REMEMBER - buy local if you can!


Aimee said...

Your basil looks amazing! I just harvested mine for the second time and I can't believe how thick and woody the stalks of the plants have become. I think they will just keep on producing. Or at least I am hoping!

Love your blog Evelyn! : )

Robin Farrantini said...

I just love your blog!!! I find it fresh and inspiring!

Here's to more...


Pat Kight said...

Ooh - I'm going to try the basil salt (and maybe rosemary and thyme, too - my herb garden is exploding this summer!).

You might also try a batch of Liquore al Basilico (aka Basilcello), a very easy digestif liqueur. I made a batch a few weeks ago and just strained it into bottles last night. It's beautiful, and tastes remarkable. Google "Basilcello" for recipes.