Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Basil's Moment

Home gardens are closing up and a bag of over abundant zucchini from a neighbor may arrive unannounced at your door.  If you are lucky as me, there is basil there as well, lots of it.

The key now is to preserve the bounty quickly.  Most of this year's basil windfall will become pesto, frozen in small quantities to make pesto noodles, add to soups or smear on baked chicken breasts.  I'll also freeze some chopped basil alone in olive oil. Make sure the chopped basil is completely coated with oil before storing.   Preserving in oil is fine as long as you are freezing the mixture.  Do not solely rely on refrigeration to retard the growth of bacteria. 

Below is a simple recipe for pesto and since our basil arrived with just picked zucchini, I've included a recipe for a buttermilk-basil sauce for zucchini and tortellini.  This sauce makes a nice salad dressing as well.  

Buttermilk Basil Sauce for Pasta Salad
Yield: Enough to coat about 4-5 cups pasta/vegetables
Note: A mini food processor or immersion blender is perfect for this small quantity.  If you have neither, you can rough chop then mince the basil and combine with remaining ingredients to make a more rustic but equally tasty version of the dressing.

1 cup basil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
black pepper

  1. Combine basil and cheese in a food processor and pulse to create a rough chop.  
  2. Add buttermilk and olive oil and process to a smooth dressing.  
  3. Add black pepper to taste.
To use, pour over  cooked noodles (short pastas, tortellini, macaroni, etc) and steamed and drained zucchini or other favorite vegetable (about 4 cups total veggies and pasta).  Serve hot or at room temperature.  (Cover and refrigerate to store.)

Basil Pesto
1 1/2 cups

3 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried, large stems removed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 
1/8-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
pinch salt

  1. Combine the basil, garlic and nuts in a food processor with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  
  2. Pulse to create a coarse chop of the ingredients.  
  3. Slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil as you process to create a smooth paste.  
  4. Add cheese and remainder of olive oil as needed to create a thick but pourable consistency.  
  5. Add black pepper and taste.  Add salt, if needed (the dry cheese will add salty flavor so taste before adding more salt). 
To use, toss several tablespoons pesto sauce with hot, drained pasta. Toss to allow warm pasta to melt the cheese and coat pasta with sauce. Serve hot or at room temperature.  Pesto may be refrigerated for 1-2 days covered in olive oil. 

Storage: Unused pesto will keep in the freezer for 3 months.  Many recommend freezing portions in ice cube trays.  We like to freeze 1/4 cup servings in snack-size plastic bags.  Any leftover thawed pesto is enjoyed on sandwiches in place of mayonnaise or as a base for dip.