Monday, September 14, 2009


Basil is an especially versatile herb. Whereas most herbs and spices remain in the background to add complexity and additional flavor (which is a very important job to have, don't get me wrong), basil can often take center stage in many dishes. It complements a large variety of other flavors, vegetables, and fruits, and can be used in sauteed dishes, soups, sauces, eaten raw, or even used in desserts. I highly suggest buying a living basil plant the next time you're at your local farmers market. Mine is simply in a small pot on my windowsill, no outdoor plot of land or any real effort required. It is such a beautiful and aromatic plant, and what's even better is that now you'll have fresh homegrown basil at your disposal every time you're cooking a meal.

Basil Pesto

About 2 cups fresh basil, packed
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 pine nuts (or walnuts if you prefer or have them on hand)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 Pecorino cheese, grated

Directions: Toast the pine nuts or walnuts in a small frying pan - you'll know that they're done when they are lightly browned and very fragrant. Combine the nuts, basil, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until everything is coarsely chopped. Slowly add the oil as you continue to process, until fully incorporated and smooth. Add the salt and pepper. Add the rest of the oil and pulse, again until smooth and fully incorporated
. Remove from food processor and place into a serving bowl with the Pecorino cheese, and mix until that is also fully incorporated.

Stir-Fried Asparagus and Basil with Spicy Orange Sauce
courtesty of Jack Bishop's 'Vegetables Every Day'

1/3 cup orange juice
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
1 1/2 pounds asparagus
4 teaspoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh minced ginger, or about 1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 fresh basil leaves, packed

Directions: Combine the orange juice, soy sauce, and crushed red pepper flakes in a small bowl and set aside. Snap off the tough ends of the asparagus. If the asparagus are thin, cut them on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces. If the asparagus are average or thicker, cut the spears in half lengthwise and then on the diagonal in 2-inch pieces.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet set over high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the asparagus and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Push the asparagus to the sides of the pan and place the garlic and ginger in the center. Drizzle the remaining 1 teaspoon oil over the garlic and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add the orange juice mixture, toss to coat well, and cover. Cook until the asparagus are tender, 2 to 3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears. Remove the cover and add the basil. Stir-fry until the sauce has reduced to a thick glaze, about 30 seconds. Serve immediately.

And if you're really adventurous and love making desserts, try this basil creme brulee! It is my absolute favorite dessert, and the basil adds a really earthy and sweet flavor that really puts this dessert over the top.

Lemon Basil Creme Brulee
courtesy of Ristorante Terrazza

4 cups heavy whipping cream
1 lemon, peeled
4 basil leaves
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
A pinch of salt
1 cup granulated sugar for caramelizing

Directions: Place the cream, lemon peel and basil in a heavy saucepan at medium temperature. Meanwhile whisk together the yolks, sugar and salt in a large bowl. When the cream is hot, slowly whisk in about 1 to 2 cups of the hot cream into yolks to temper it (i.e. bring it to the same temperature). Whisk in the remaining cream and strain through a fine mesh sieve. Divide the custard among 6 to 8 oz. ramekins. Set the ramekins in a shallow roasting pan and fill with enough hot water to reach halfway up the sides of ramekins. Carefully set pan in the oven and bake for about an hour at 300 degrees f. To test doneness of the custards, gently shake one. If it moves in one mass, they are done. Refrigerate until cold. Divide the remaining cup of sugar equally among the tops of the ramekins, and melt the sugar until crispy and slightly browned with a torch. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes, and serve.

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