Sweet Basil

SWEET BASIL

Basil is commonly used fresh in cooked recipes. It is generally added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys its flavour. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer. Fresh basil is very delicate, and will turn brown if it gets very hot or if it’s exposed to air for long periods of time.

Basil is one of the main ingredients in Pesto. Playing around with this wonderful herb, I discovered some amazing recipes, such as a tasty Cheese Dip, Basil Butter and Creamy Basil Dressing which is great for summer salads.

Pesto is an aromatic herb paste, traditionally made from fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. It is most commonly used as a pasta sauce. Many cooks use fresh spinach as well as basil in their pesto to help maintain its brilliant green color.

  • Since pesto has a very concentrated flavor, make an amazing pasta sauce by reserving a cup of the pasta cooking water when you drain the pasta.
  • Return the drained pasta to the hot pan, add a tablespoonful or so of pesto, and add the water a bit at a time until the sauce reaches the desired consistency.
  • The starch in the water will help to thicken the sauce and allow it to coat the pasta.
  • Serve the pasta as is, or top it with chopped fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, and toasted pine nuts.
  • You can also make it more filling by adding sautéed vegetables and leftover cooked chicken or ham.

BASIL PESTO SAUCE

  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon red wine or herb vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Whirl in a food processor until well combined and pieces of basil are very small.

Store pesto in a jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for about a week, or in the freezer for about six months.

Although pesto is easy to make at home and will taste fresher than the purchased kind, you can also find it at the grocery store in shelf-stable jars, in the refrigerator case, or in the freezer section.

Make your own, and try Pesto:

  • On pizza crust in place of or in addition to the red sauce
  • Added to a cream sauce or Alfredo sauce
  • Mixed with mayonnaise as a sandwich spread or burger topping
  • Stirred into mashed potatoes
  • Stirred into risotto
  • Dolloped on soup
  • Spread on crostini and topped with chopped tomatoes, smoked salmon, roasted red peppers or goat cheese
  • Whisked into scrambled eggs or folded into omelets
    In pasta salads, potato salads, or salad dressings
  • Mixed with cream cheese and spread on a bagel

When mixing pesto with pasta, potatoes, or risotto, stir it in at the last-minute, just before serving.

Keep pesto looking fresh and green by covering the top with a thin layer of olive oil or with a sheet of plastic wrap directly on its surface; this will keep it from oxidizing and turning brown.

One way to freeze pesto in manageable portion sizes is to freeze it in an ice-cube tray, and transfer the cubes to a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag, or what I do is use a small ice cream scoop and put scoops on a plastic wrapped cookie sheet, freeze and once frozen, place in airtight freezer bags. Thaw frozen pesto in the refrigerator or in the microwave on medium power just until room temperature.

BASIL BUTTER

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 pound butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoon seasoned pepper
  • 2 garlic cloves

Whip ingredients in food processor until very creamy.  Put in air tight containers and refrigerate to freeze for future use.  Great on sandwiches.  Amazing when used as broiled garlic bread, or simply slathered on steaming new potatoes.

BASIL PUREE

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 cups washed and dried basil leaves

Blend until pureed. Transfer to clean jar. Store in refrigerator. Each time you use it stir and then top with a thin layer of oil. It will keep one year by doing this. This is good on grilled chicken or fish, stirred into soups or mixed with sun-dried tomatoes and broiled on bread.

BASIL CHEESE DIP

  • 1 package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup skim or rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon dill weed or fresh dill chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Mix ingredients well in food processor, chill for 2 hours and serve with fresh veggies for dipping or chips.

CREAMY BASIL DRESSING

  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped shallot
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Blend in a food processor until very creamy.  Refrigerate and use over green salads, or in pasta salads.  Amazing added to potato salads.

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