Monday, July 12, 2010

An abundance of basil

I have been pinching it religiously all season, so my basil plants this weekend were beautiful, full little bushs of emerald green leaves, ready to pick. Now is a good time to do a big pruning, to try and coax more time of leaf production rather than flowers from this wonderful plant. I cut my basil plants way back, and had to figure out what to do with all those pungent leaves. Here you see four cups of packed leaves, 1/4 cup of pine nuts, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. I pureed 6 garlic cloves in the food processor, then added the basil, pine nuts and cheese. After a short pulse or two, I started adding olive oil until it reached the consistence it liked. Add some salt and black pepper, and I had this beautiful jar of pesto. Some of it was tossed with pasta and sauteed squash. Now that dish screams summer. I tried something new this time to hold off the dark, off colors that occur quickly when basil leaves are chopped. I tossed the leaves in a tiny bit of lemon juice before chopping them. I was pleased with the bright green result.

The rest of the basil I dried in a low oven (about 125 degrees, on convection). These leaves did not hold their bright color because I was lazy and put them in the oven in a deep pile (I had lots of basil). Instead of drying quickly and holding their color, they dried slowly, and cooked a bit, so are not very pretty. Once fully dried (it took about 4 hours total for these, and I kept stirring and tossing them; it will take much less if you do it properly, with only one layer of leaves), I crushed these simply by folding up the edges of the parchment paper where they were dried, and crunching them in my hands. They completely filled a nice sized spice jar, and will save me quite a bit if money this winter.

Finally, I chop fresh basil and add it to my salad dressing for this season's constant cucumber and tomato salads. These are my "little leaf" picking cucumbers, sliced, mixed with my "sungold" tomatoes. Delicious!