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Backyard Basil Bounty


Every year in May, I plant basil because I love it so much. And every year in May, I also apparently forget that basil grows like kudzu. Which leads to planting way too much for one family to consume with the occasional marinara and salad caprese. So every year in June, I make pesto — lots and lots of pesto.

If you could only smell this.

But — tasty and useful as it is — pesto is not exactly a highly creative use for basil. I’m going to get to some more interesting basil concoctions later in this post, but if you, like moi, have an overabundance of basil, by all means, make pesto. It’s super easy. You probably have a recipe, but here’s mine just in case.

Classic pesto ingredients ready to whir.

  • Basil Pesto (not to be confused with “pistou,” which is the basil mixture without the nuts, usually added to salad dressing or used for dipping bread):

Ingredients: 3-4 cups (loosely packed) basil leaves, pinch or two of salt, 1 garlic glove, 3-4 tbs. pine nuts (if you don’t have pine nuts, chopped walnuts work, too, but the pesto tastes a little nuttier and less rich), and 1/4-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Grated. Parmesan cheese.

To make: Rinse and dry basil leaves using paper towels or a salad spinner. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the basil leaves, salt, garlic, pine nuts, and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Process the mixture, drizzling a little more oil in as the machine is running. If you’re going to eat it fresh, add 1/2 cup (or more) grated Parmesan, only stir it in by hand instead of adding to the food processor.

It's challenging to photograph yourself drizzling oil into a running Cuisinart.

If you want to save the pesto, it keeps in the refrigerator for about a week. Or you can freeze it in small containers or an ice-cube tray. And here’s a great pesto tip: Don’t add the cheese until you’re ready to serve it.

Okay, once you’ve filled every crevice of your freezer with pesto, what else can you do to dispatch with an abundance of basil? Well, definitely throw some in the pan the next time you sautée just about anything. Add some to your salad dressing, pasta, salads, pasta salads, or grilled panini (a grilled cheese with basil is divine, by the way; drizzle with balsamic vinegar or dip it in Summer Tomato Sauce. Mmm.).

Here are a few more recipes for basil lovers. Depending on your basil situation, I encourage doubling or quadrupling these recipes.

  • Fresh Herb Vinaigrette

This is one of my all-time favorite sauces. It’s rich and light tasting at the same time. It’s another item I first tried in southern France; it is traditionally made with a combination of tarragon, chives, and parsley. For obvious reasons, I substituted a whole lot of basil for all three. This sauce makes a fantastic dressing for pasta salad or dip for veggies (or bread).

Okay, it doesn't look like much but trust me, it tastes like something!

Ingredients: 2 hard-boiled eggs, 4 garlic cloves, salt, red wine vinegar, olive oil, 2 tbs. Dijon mustard, and 1 cup basil leaves (loosely packed).

To make: Separate the egg white from the yolks; set the whites aside. In the bowl of a food processor, process the egg yolks, garlic, pinch of salt, and mustard. While the motor is running, drizzle the vinegar and oil into the mixture. Stop and scrape the sides if necessary. Combine the mixture by hand with the (chopped) egg whites. Add more salt and ground pepper to taste.

  • Basil Lemonade

This might sound a little weird, but I promise it’s refreshing and delicious, especially with a scosh, as my Auntie used to say, of vodka). Just so you know, I’m a bit of a lemonade freak. And a total lemonade snob. If you aren’t up to making fresh-squeezed, I highly recommend Santa Cruz organic.

But this in bulk whenever it's on sale.

To make basil syrup: Boil 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar. Add 1 cup basil leaves (loosely packed) and let cool. When you’re ready to drink it, add a shot or so of the syrup to each tall glass of lemonade.

  • Basil Oil

Remember a few weeks back I was going on and on about the flavored oils at Oliviers & Co.? No? Well, I was. I love flavored oils mixed with a little vinegar on salad, and they also work great for sautéeing. But they are not cheap. So I did some experimenting and came up with this genius (if I do say so myself) use for a LOT of basil. Note: You’ll need cheesecloth for this one.

Ingredients: 2-3 cups (packed) basil leaves and 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make: Bring a large pot of water (salted) to a boil. Get a large bowl and fill it with ice water. Put the basil in the boiling water for a few seconds (10-15), then immediately remove it and dunk it in the ice bath for a few minutes until it’s cold. Drain and dry using a salad spinner or paper towels. Cut the leaves into small pieces (Tip: I always use scissors to cut basil; it’s much easier and doesn’t make black marks like knives can).

Put basil and oil in a blender and blend. Refrigerate the mixture for a day or two. Line a small colander with cheesecloth and set it on top of a bowl. Pour the basil-oil mixture onto the cheesecloth to strain. Let it sit for an hour or so to let all the oil drip through. If you want your oil perfectly transparent, you might have to strain it more than once (and don’t squeeze the cheesecloth), but it’s really beautiful just like this. You need to get busy and eat this once you make it, because it will only keep for about a week in the fridge. Dip crusty bread in this with a little coarse salt. To. Die. For.

Just some more basil.

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This post has 8 comments

  • Kent Watson says:

    Hi Bevin: Great post. My good friend Greg Mowery (he is quite the foodie) and I checked some of the local Portland food carts for dinner last night. One cart (Sugar Cube) is well known all over town for a fantastic vanilla bean panacotta. I comes in a small cup with fresh (Hood) strawberries and a chiffonade of basil. The basil really brightens the strawberries. Best of luck using up all of your basil.

    • Hi Kent! Thanks for reminding me of something else I love: basil with strawberries macerated with sugar and balsamic vinegar — yum! I’ve heard Portland has quite the foodie scene; will have to make another trek up there one of these days.

      • Kent Watson says:

        Hey Bevin: Let me know if you ever plan a trip to Portland. It would be great to catch up with you and meet your family. I would be happy to take you all on a great food tour of the city. The Rose City is the best place I have ever lived for food. BTW Have you ever made a breakfast pizza? If not, give this a try. Make or buy a large pizza dough. Separate into four equal pieces. Roll out each piece and cover with olive oil and minced garlic. Crack an egg inside and place in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and cover with some parm cheese and some fresh basil. Now you know why I exercise each and everyday. LOL

  • Mom says:

    My mouth is watering!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I intend to restock my pesto supply and the lemonade will be made as soon as I hit the market — love your blog my dear — keep it up — mom

  • Barb says:

    Who are you?! Macerated (I had to look that one up!) strawberries and functional uses for cheesecloth that you “made-up”? Where is that girl who used to eat out of a can and be totally delighted?! Actually I love it and am learning so much from you.

    Have another suggestion to contribute to use up your basil, although the only part I can take credit for is truly enjoying it and thinking about it ever since.

    While in Austin, TX waiting for the “bats” that live under the Congress Avenue bridge to fly out (which I am convinced is a genius marketing tactic created by the good folks at http://www.fourseasons.com/austin/dining/the_lobby_lounge/ to sell $14 juice with a blackberry nestled in 2 mint leaves – get it? http://intoxicologist.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/wg0107_batini_lg.jpg), I discovered a WAY better drink made with basil. http://www.texasmonthly.com/food/recipefiles/Drinks/2005-07-01/recipe2.php As you might have imagined, we never saw a bat, but enjoyed a bar bill that made us go “batty!” And I’ve been dreaming about Lemon Basil Mojitos ever since! Yes, they add lemon to the recipe above, which made it even more amazing. OK, now I’m having a craving!

  • Barb says:

    OK, just realized your basil lemonade in your Aunt’s style is the same darn thing I just said in 300 words. I may have to leave the foodie blogging to you!

  • […] would? Not feeling inspired by your pot of pasta and summer squash? Toss it with some cheesy basil pesto. The fruit bowl isn’t enticing you? May I suggest making (fresh strawberry) […]

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