Muffy Vhay: Basil is an end-of-summer culinary treat
September 11, 2013
The Johnny's seed catalogue lists 17 kinds of basil, from the classic Italian variety Genovese, large-leafed and pungent, to Dark Opal, an edible variety often used by florists. Burpee's catalogue lists seven varieties, and the Kitchen Garden Seed catalogue from John Scheepers lists 10 basils, including lime, lemon and cinnamon scented varieties. There also are culinary basil garden collections from several seed and plant companies.
Recently, many of our local supermarkets — and of course the farmer's markets — are offering basil plants in their produce or floral sections. So it's a popular and readily available herb, with a multitude of tastes and uses.
In our garden, basil serves two main functions: for kitchen use, of course, but also as a pest deterrent. Since we have pretty reliable south-southwest prevailing winds here at the ranch, we plant our basil as part of a row of aromatics (onions, dill and marigolds) on the upwind side of plants that are bothered by cabbage moths, aphids and other bugs. Consequently, we don't use commercial pesticides for those problems.
We make pesto from our basil in late summer and freeze enough for the rest of the year. Freezing fresh pesto (recipe follows) is easy: Spread a 12-inch to 14-inch piece of plastic wrap on your counter. Place a line of pesto about 1 inch wide and a half-inch high on the lower edge of the wrap. Roll up, twist the ends and lay flat in the freezer until almost solid. Remove and cut into coin sizes, about three-quarters-inch to 1 inch wide, and package in a freezer bag. Now you can take out as much at a time as you need. Each coin will be about a tablespoon of pesto.
Two recipes follow: One is for our basic basil pesto, and the other is for our son's favorite green spaghetti.
One of our favorite ways to use pesto is in pesto mayonnaise. Take two coins of pesto to a half-cup or more of good-quality mayonnaise. Mix well and serve with sliced tomatoes.
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2 cups fresh basil (leaves only), loosely packed
1/2 cup good-quality olive oil
3 to 6 peeled cloves of garlic (according to your taste for garlic)
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄3 cup water
1/4 cup pinenuts or walnuts
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Whirl nuts, garlic, and water in a blender or food processor until smooth.
Turn the motor off and add the basil, salt and olive oil. Whirl until pureed; you may need to add a bit more oil.
Remove from blender, and add parmesan if you are going to serve immediately. If you are going to freeze it, wait until you defrost some, and add parmesan to taste.
TOBY'S FAVORITE GREEN SPAGHETTI
To serve four:
1/4 to 1/2 cup pesto, depending on taste and amount of spaghetti
1/2 cup half and half
1 to 1 1/2 pound spaghetti
Butter to taste (2 tablespoons to 4 tablespoons)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Cook spaghetti till al dente and drain, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Return pasta to pot, add butter and stir till melted. Do not turn on heat again. Quickly add pesto/cream/egg mix and stir till set. You may need a bit of the reserved water if it's too dry. Serve immediately.
David and Muffy Vhay own Deer Run Ranch Bed and Breakfast. Contact the ranch at 775-882-3643.