Tag Archives: basil

Presto A La Pesto

Pesto is one of those ingredients that I always try to have on hand.  By that I mean, that I make a batch every three or four weeks during the warmer months when I have access to fresh herbs.

Why?  Well, for several reasons.  First, it tastes good, especially if you make it yourself.  Second, it is ridiculously easy, even more so if you have a blender or food processor.  And, finally, pesto can punch up the flavor in a dish or help whip up an easy meal.

When I mix pesto with a bit of mayo and spread it on whole wheat bread, it makes my ordinary turkey sandwich taste like a decadent treat…

If time has gotten away from me and it is dinner time before I know it, pesto mixed in with freshly boiled and drained pasta and paired with quick grilled chicken and a bagged salad is a a meal in a flash…

Are folks coming over for drinks now?  I’ll just toast some slices of bread, spread on the pesto, and slice into triangles.  If I can top with fresh tomatoes all the better…

Lucky for me that Karen included some basil and oregano in her gift of herbs…

Basil, Oregano, and Almond Pesto
Makes about 1 cup

2 cups of fresh basil and oregano (whatever proportion you prefer)
1/3 cup unsalted almonds (raw or toasted)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a food processor or blender, add herbs and almonds.

Pulse a few times to combine.  Add the garlic and Parmesan cheese and pulse again to combine.

Slowly add olive oil in a thin stream while the processor or blender is running.  Scrape the sides and pulse again to combine.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This will keep in a sealed container in your fridge for a couple of weeks.

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Cooking Through a Hurriquake

Oh, electricity how I missed you….the hum of the refrigerator, the whir and cool breeze of the fan, the joy of showering in the light.  But, oh, wireless internet connection, I missed you most of all.  So good to have you back.

Things are gradually returning to normal here in Washington, DC after the hurriquake and several days with no power at our house.  What’s that?  Oh, you don’t know what a hurriquake is?

A hurriquake is the unnatural occurrence of two natural disasters – an earthquake and a hurricane – in one location within a short time period.  In this case, a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit DC on Tuesday with a series of 4.something aftershocks over several days followed by Hurricane Irene on Saturday and Sunday.

Please know that I’m not complaining and I am very aware of how lucky we are.  We had minor losses (except for some spectacular blackberry jam!) in the earthquake and have only struggled with power loss from the hurricane.  We suffered no injuries or major property loss, and I am very grateful for that.  But….I have now had my fill of natural disasters for a while.

The lack of electricity has led to a bit more creativity in my cooking, though I did manage to mooch off friends for a couple of meals.  We enjoyed the last of the tomatoes I picked last week and didn’t can in two ways.  I used about a pint worth for a loaf of focaccia and then the last bit I grilled and turned into tomato sauce.

Tomato Foccacia
Makes 1 large loaf

2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups of milk
1 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp salt
5 to 6 cups of white all-purpose flour
about a pint of fresh, ripe cherry tomatoes
about 1/3 cup olive oil
about 2 – 3 Tbsp fresh basil, sliced into thin strips
cornmeal for dusting
salt and pepper, to taste

Warm 2 cups of milk.  Place  yeast in a small bowl, add 1/2 Tbsp sugar, and pour in 1/2 cup of lightly warmed milk.  Yeast should start to bubble and grow – proof that it is alive.

While the  yeast is “proofing,” pour remaining milk into a large bowl, add remaining sugar, salt, and 2 cups of flour.  Stir after the addition of each cup of flour.  Add the proofed yeast mixture and stir.  Add about 3 more cups of flour, again stirring after the addition of each cup.  When dough is firm and sticking together, turn out onto floured surface.  Knead, adding flour as needed, until dough is smooth and satiny and no longer sticky.  It took me about 10 minutes of kneading.  Roll the dough into a ball-shape.

Grease a steep-sided bowl and place the ball of dough inside.  Cover with plastic wrap and a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled, about 1 hour.

While the dough is rising, I prepared the tomatoes.  Luckily, we have a gas stovetop, so with a match I could still use it to boil some water.  I dropped about a pint of cherry tomatoes into the rapidly boiling water.  Let them blanch for no more than 3 minutes.  Quickly drain them and rinse with cold water.  The blanching will make the tomato skin easy to peel.

 Remove the tomato skins and drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil.  Set aside.

When doubled, turn out the dough again onto a floured surface and knead again gently for 2 to 3 minutes.  Using a rolling pin and/or your hands, roll the dough into a rectangle shape about 1-inch thick.

Lightly dust a baking sheet with cornmeal.  Place the dough on the sheet and using your fingers push the dough to fill the pan.

Pour the tomatoes and olive oil over the top of the dough.  Push your fingers into the dough to create little indentions and an uneven surface, and also to push the tomatoes into the dough very lightly.

Sprinkle with basil.

Leave it to rise again until it is doubled.  At this point, I traveled to my brother’s apartment to use his working oven.  Just before baking, sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake in a 425 degree F preheated oven for about 20 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden.

We sliced the loaf into squares to make into sandwiches with fresh mozzarella and Italian cured meats.

Grilled Tomato Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

2 to 3 pounds of fresh, ripe tomatoes
about 3 Tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 Tbsp fresh basil
salt

Drizzle the tomatoes with about half the olive oil and place them on a grill.

Cook over medium heat until wrinkled and lightly charred, turning as necessary.

Remove from the grill, place in a bowl and add minced garlic.  Let sit for about 10 minutes to meld flavors.

If you have power, you can puree the tomatoes in a blender.  Or, you can use a food mill, like I did.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a wide, deep skillet.  Pour the pureed tomatoes to the skillet and add herbs.  Simmer sauce, stirring frequently until thickened to desired consistency.  It took me about 15 or so minutes.

Season with salt, to taste.  Use it right away, or you can put it in your freezer to enjoy the taste of summer later.

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Bar Stool Fridays – Herbal Limeade

This post is due to the influence of two remarkable women in my life.  One, is my sister-in-law Sarah, who gently and without prejudice, pointed out to me that not all of my readers enjoy alcohol quite as much as I apparently do.  Point taken and appreciated, thank you.

The other is my amazing friend Wendy who is one of my biggest champions and always pushes me to be more creative.  Wendy has decided to start presenting me with random ingredients and in Iron Chef style makes firm suggestions of what kind of dish I should make.  In this first example she offered me freshly picked Thai basil and demanded, I mean requested, I make a drink with it.

Okay, ladies, I hope you like the results.  This post is for you.  Thanks for the ongoing support.

Thai Basil and Mint Limeade
Makes about 24 oz

1/2 cup basil and mint infused simple syrup
zest of 1 lime
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups water or club soda
Thai basil sprigs for garnish

To make herbal infused simple syrup, combine equal parts of water and granulated sugar in a saucepan.  Heat on stovetop and stir until sugar dissolves.  Turn off heat and drop in sprigs of Thai basil and mint (about 1 to 2 oz) into the hot syrup.

Let the herbs steep until the syrup has cooled to room temperature.  Remove herbs.  Add lime zest.

Measure and pour syrup into pitcher.  Add an equal amount of fresh lime juice, and stir.  If you like it a little sweeter, add only half the amount of lime juice.

Now add water or club soda.  I added twice as much water as juice and syrup, but you may prefer a slightly weaker taste and may want to add more water.

Serve over ice with a sprig of Thai basil or mint for garnish.

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Fresh Basil Pesto with a Texas Twist

There is a booming crop of basil in the yard of our rental house.  The obvious way to use fresh basil is to make pesto.

Pesto is typically made with not only basil, but also pine nuts or walnuts.  I decided to take a different tack.  I used locally grown pecans like a good little locavore, and I added a jalapeno for a little zing.

Texas-Style Fresh Basil Pesto
Makes 1 cup

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/3 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 jalapeno, diced, optional
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

It is best to use a food processor, but you can use a blender, too.  Combine the basil and pecans, and pulse a few times.  Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the processor/blender is on.  Stop to scrape the sides with a spatula.

Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended.  Add the jalapeno, pulsing yet again to blend.

Add a pinch of salt and pepper to taste.

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Summer Saute

The markets are really booming with fresh produce now.  I love this time of year.  Everything is so fresh and tasty that it doesn’t take much effort or many complicated ingredients to make your dinner delicious. I especially like the ease of creating dishes with fresh herbs for a truly seasonal flavor.

Our backyard herb batch has been a great asset, even our basil is doing well.  I mention the basil for several reasons.  First, because it is a mainstay herb of summer and makes a nice complement to the veggies you pick up at the farmer’s market.  But, also because apparently a fungus is attacking and killing basil plants across the country.  It isn’t toxic to humans, but it can make for a disappointing harvest.  It is impacting growers across the country, so you may see less fresh sweet basil in your markets or your backyard.

If you are lucky enough to snag some fresh basil, however, chop it up and add it to a saute of summer squash and zucchini.    It is a quick side dish for grilling since it only takes about 5 minutes on the stove top.  Then, you can go right back to enjoying the long summer evenings…

Zucchini and Summer Squash Saute
Makes 3 to 4 servings

1 large zucchini
2 small yellow summer squash
1 1/2 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped
kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil

Slice zucchini and squash into matchstick pieces.

Lightly mix first four ingredients in a bowl.

Heat olive oil in medium saute pan.  Add ingredients from bowl and saute gently stirring until slightly soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately.

VARIATIONS:  You can easily vary the proportions to make more or less depending on how many folks you want to serve.  This recipe can also take on other flavors…you could add garlic or hot peppers or change the fresh herb to oregano, dill, or mint.  It is also delicious with the addition of fresh tomatoes.

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Granita for Grown-ups

I often get a little carried away at the farmer’s market and it can be a struggle not to purchase more produce than we can use in a timely fashion.  Case in point – I picked up some locally-grown blueberries recently without a clear idea of what I would make with them.  They just looked yummy.  I started planning to make some more popsicles, but decided that I would rather have something with a bit more adult sophistication, instead.  Enter the blueberry basil granita.

With a recipe from Epicurious as my guide, I picked basil from our backyard to provide an herbal element that pairs well with fruit.  And with a nod to my dark side, I added a splash (or three) of citrus vodka.

Blueberry Basil Granita
Makes 4 servings

1 pint fresh blueberries
1/2 cup water
8 fresh basil leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1 tsp lime zest
4 tsp honey
2 1/2 Tbsp citrus vodka (optional)

Wash the blueberries and pick out any stems.

Blitz all the ingredients in a food processor or blender until smooth.

Pour into an airtight container and freeze until slushy.  My batch took about 3 hours to reach the right consistency.

Scoop out into individual servings.

If you are feeling sophisticated, too, you can garnish each serving with a sprig of basil or a couple more blueberries.  If you are not feeling sophisticated, stick out your tongue stained blue with berry juice.

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