Basil is undoubtedly the most loved and popular herb in Italy. Although we tend to associate the herb with Italy and other Mediterranean countries, it actually originated in India and was brought to the Mediterranean via the spice routes in ancient times. Tulsi, as the herb is known in Hindi, means “Sacred Basil,” and some of the many varieties of the plant were incorporated into Indian cooking centuries ago. From India, basil traveled not only to Europe and Africa, but spread to other parts of Asia as well, most notably to Thailand. Today, there are at least a dozen varieties grown for culinary use.

Sweet Basil (Ocimum bacilicum) and, its close relative, basilico genovese are the only varieties used in Italian cooking. Its flavor has been described as spicy and peppery, with a hint of clove and mint – but of course this doesn’t come close to capturing its unique essence. Perhaps it’s more helpful to talk about what it pairs with best: olive oil, garlic, lemon, rosemary and thyme – and, of course, tomatoes. Basil and tomatoes seem to have been made for each other – as in the famous, insalata caprese – tomato mozzarella salad, as well as, tomato sauces. But, this herb also enhances other vegetables – such as zucchini and eggplant, to name just a few, and is widely used in many pasta dishes.

If you’re growing basil in your garden or on a window sill,  cut the basil leaves, often, from the top of each stem. The leaves grow back quickly and stronger. Basil preserves well in oil and can also be frozen. It is rich in antioxidants and, some claim , it has anticancer and antiviral properties. In Italy, basil is believed to help along the after-lunch nap that millions of Italians still enjoy on hot summer afternoons.

Basil is one herb in particular that really shines when it’s fresh. Just think of a homemade marinara sauce using fresh basil — would it be the same using dried? But beyond those familiar dishes we most associate with basil (tomato sauce, pizza, meatballs, pesto), the herb can actually work wonderfully well in many more dishes, including cocktails and desserts.

Basil is my favorite herb and I grow quite a bit of it every year – at least 4 containers worth, Naturally, I cannot let it go to waste. As a result I have become very creative in using this herb in any number of ways. I also freeze it for use in winter time tomato sauces. Not quite as good as the fresh leaves, but way better than dried.

Emerald Gimlet

1 Serving

Ingredients:

  • 3 big basil leaves
  • Ice Cubes
  • 1/2 ounce Lemon Simple Syrup
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 2 ounces good Vodka

Lemon Simple Syrup:

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

Mix the basil leaves with ice in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon simple syrup, lime juice and vodka. Shake and strain into a Martini glass. Garnish with a lime slice or a basil leaf.

To make lemon simple syrup: 

Combine the water and sugar in a large saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring regularly until the sugar dissolves.

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for one minute. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let it rest until it cools to room temperature.

Add the lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon or disposable stirrer.

Transfer the lemon simple syrup to a sterilized glass bottle. Store the simple syrup in the refrigerator between uses.

 

Fresh Basil Vinaigrette

Fresh basil and a bit of garlic are whirled into a simple fresh basil vinaigrette for your next salad.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups basil leaves (about 1 large bunch)
  • 1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Directions:

In a blender or food processor, whirl the basil, oil, vinegar and garlic until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about 1 cup.

Corn, Tomato & Basil Salad

Use only the freshest, sweetest corn for this recipe – corn that’s so tender and sweet you can eat it raw! This salad is wonderful as a side with any grilled meal or as part of any no-cook summer dinner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 ears sweet corn
  • 3 medium tomatoes
  • 2 sprigs basil

Directions:

In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix oil, vinegar and salt. Add onion to the dressing. Set dressing aside.

Husk corn and cut off kernels. Core, seed and chop tomatoes. Cut basil into thin strips (chiffonade).

Toss corn and tomatoes with the dressing. Let marinate for a few hours at room temperature.

Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Chilled Summer Squash and Basil Soup

4 Serving

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds mixed summer squash
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cups homemade or store-bought vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Lemon quarters for serving

Directions:

Roughly chop the squash, onion and garlic.

In a large saucepan heat oil; add squash and garlic. Cook vegetables gently to soften, partly covered, in the heated oil, stirring now and again.

Pour in 4 cups of the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.

Add 3/4 cups of the basil leaves, then blend together with an immulsion blender until smooth with tiny flecks of basil visible. Season to taste.

Allow to cool, then chill for four hours or overnight. The soup may be a little thick, but the basil ice and lemon juice addition will thin it.

Meanwhile, place the remaining basil leaves and the remaining stock in a shallow container. Push the basil into a single layer and freeze the mixture until set.

Break the ice into cubes and add pieces of the basil ice to each serving of soup. Garnish with lemon quarters.

 

Orange-Basil Grilled Mahi-Mahi

2 Servings

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 pound filleted Mahi-Mahi, skin on (or fish of choice)
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons shredded basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Steamed green beans, for serving

Directions:

Make the sauce by combining and mixing the ingredients together. Set aside.

Oil and lightly salt the fish. Place fish on a greased grill pan, skin side up, then slide the pan under a hot broiler until the skin is blistered.

Turn the fish over with a wide spatula and spoon on some of the sauce.

Cook for a minute or two. Lift fish onto plates (or shallow bowls) and pour over the rest of the sauce.

Serve with green beans.

Tip: Take care not to overcook the fish; – it must stay moist to be at its best.

Basil Stuffed Zucchini

Zucchini stuffed with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil make a fresh summer side dish. For the nicest presentation, use long, relatively skinny zucchini.

4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium 2-inch-wide zucchini
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 cup quartered grape tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced mozzarella cheese, preferably fresh
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil

Directions:

Trim both ends off the zucchini and cut each in half lengthwise. Cut a thin slice off the underside of each zucchini, so each half sits flat. Scoop out the pulp, leaving a 1/4-inch shell. Finely chop the pulp; set aside.

Place the zucchini halves in a microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Cover and microwave on High until tender-crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. (Alternatively, steam in a steamer basket over 1 inch of boiling water in a large skillet or pot.)

Whisk oil, vinegar, shallot and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper in a medium bowl. Add tomatoes, cheese, basil and the reserved zucchini pulp; toss to combine. Divide the filling among the zucchini. Serve.

 

Grilled Beef Braciole with Tomato-Basil Sauce

Serves: 4 servings

Ingredients:

For the sauce:

  • 8 plum tomatoes
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley leaves

For the beef:

  • 1 (1 1/2-pound) flank steak, pounded to 1/4-inch thickness
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

3 (8-inch) pieces butcher’s twine, soaked in cold water

Fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

Directions:

Heat the grill to high and oil the grill grates.

For the sauce:

Cut the tomatoes in half, brush them with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper.

Grill the tomatoes on all sides until slightly charred and soft. Remove the tomatoes from the grill, chop and place in a serving bowl.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, onion, vinegar, basil and parsley and season with salt and pepper. Set aside while the beef cooks.

For the beef:

Place the steak on a flat surface.

Combine the cheese, basil and garlic in a small bowl. Brush the steak on the side facing up with 2 tablespoons of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese mixture evenly over the steak, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the sides.

Starting with the long end, tightly roll the meat up like a jelly roll and tightly tie with the butcher’s twine on the ends and in the center. Brush the entire outside of the steak with the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place on the grill, seam-side up and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the grill and let rest 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2-inch thick slices. Serve several slices per person topped with some of the tomato sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

 

Green Apple and Basil Granita

8 Servings

Guests will welcome this refreshing granita after a heavy meal.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (1,000-mg) tablet vitamin C (ascorbic acid)
  • 4 Granny Smith apples, coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves

Equipment: cheesecloth

Directions:

Crush the vitamin C tablet in a large bowl with the back of a spoon. (Vitamin C will keep the basil bright and green.)

Line a sieve with a dampened triple-layer of cheesecloth and set it over the bowl with the vitamin C.

Puree apples with the water in a food processor (do not use a blender) until almost smooth, then pour into the cheesecloth lined sieve. (Do not clean processor bowl.)

Squeeze as much clear juice as possible through the cloth and discard solids remaining in the cheesecloth.

Puree basil with sugar until it is deep green, then add apple juice mixture and puree until combined.

Freeze mixture in an 8-inch square baking dish, scraping and stirring with a fork every 30 minutes, until frozen, at least 3 hours. (It will be too hard to scrape once fully frozen.)

Make ahead: Granita can be made 2 days ahead (cover once frozen). Let stand at room temperature about 10 minutes and re-scrape before serving in glass dishes.

About these ads