Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Produce of the Week: Basilico

You might be thinking - "basil isn't in season, especially not in the great (but often chilly and grey) Pacific Northwest." Well, you can think that all you want, but that is not going to change the fact that there is a basil plant (actually five) growing in my backyard at this very moment. If that is not local and seasonal, I am not sure what is.

While appearing in Asian varieties such as Thai and Lemon basils, this tender herb is most well-known for its starring role in many Italian dishes. It is high in antioxidants, possesses antibacterial properties, and traditionally has been used to treat maladies related to stress and asthma. And of course, there are the many culinary traditions to which basil adds flavor and color.

Basil is my go-to herb. Usually I resort to the dried variety: it's available year-round, it packs a punch with more concentrated flavor, and can be steeped in stews and sauces. Oh, but fresh basil is heavenly!
Classic Pesto Genovese (with carrot linguine)

1 large bunch of basil
2-3 medium cloves of basil
couple of tbs of pine nuts
salt to taste
olive oil to create desired consistency

1. Food process all ingredients until smooth-ish. That's it!
2. My mother has this fantastic method of freezing pesto in ice cube trays to use for later. You just grab one or two little 'uns, heat it up with a tad bit of olive oil, and then coat your favorite pasta! Note: traditional pesto has a hard cheese like parmesan, but don't freeze it like this!

Carrot Linguine

1. Use a peeler to strip a few large carrots clean to the ribs.
2. Dump the carrot strands in a skillet with a bit of oil and water until starting to get tender.
3. Toss with the pesto or a roasted tomato marinara...mmm...

My Favorite Basil Recipes:
  • I love Ratatouille, the classic Provencal courgette et tomate dish can be light and baked, stewy, or in the Smitten Kitchen, a lovely tart! My stint on the Italian farm was filled with pomodori, zucchini, e basilico - the perfect ratatouille, the perfect August repast.
  • In the heat of summer, toast up some crusty italian bread drizzled in olive oil and layer a slice of garden-fresh tomato and a leaf of basil for delicious Caprese salad.
  • Good marinara requires basil, either fresh added at the end or dried allowed to simmer (and there are plenty of good gnocchi recipes without eggs).
  • Of course, a good white bean soup is always a nice addition to a meal (Fat Free Vegan Blog has many delightful recipes with basil!)
And if you plan on retaining your own basil plants, keep in mind that they repel many pesky insects and aid in the growth (and flavor development) of tomatoes - who would've guessed?

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