In Season: Basil

 Basil is my absolute favorite herb.  Sage plays a close second, but basil—-it just livens up anything it touches!  Basil plays a part in many of my summer recipes, and for good reason.  Its fresh color, flavor, and abundance this time of year makes it the perfect accompaniment to so many dishes.  Basil is great on its own, but I particularly love to make it into pesto.  I’m somewhat of a pesto fanatic.  I make it all the time to toss with pasta (it’s great on both hot pasta and cold pasta salads), stir in soups or sauces, or to brush on meat, fish, or poultry.  It is also fantastic on grilled veggies…but more on that in a second.

It is important to know how to choose basil when at the farmers market or grocery store.  Look for bright, shiny green leaves which are free of brown spots and are not wilted.  It is also important to make sure you choose a bunch that has not yet flowered.   Once basil has begun to flower, the flavor is not as good.  This photo is an extreme example of a plant that has already flowered, but it gives a good idea of what to look for:

Photo by "Image Gratification"

 

 

 

 

 

Once your basil is at home, store it with the stems in a glass of water, in the refrigerator.  You can also freeze it for longer storage.  A great way to accomplish this is to, yup, you guessed it, make pesto (recipe below), which freezes extremely well.   

For this fantastic summer dish, I grill a variety of vegetables, then brush them with fresh pesto.  It is great as an antipasto or as a side dish to any meal.  

Grilled Vegetables with Pesto

Serves 4-6

For the pesto:

Makes about 3/4 cup

1 large bunch fresh basil, thick stems removed
1-2 small cloves garlic

1 T pine nuts, toasted

3 T grated Parmesan cheese

Olive oil
Salt and pepper

 Wash and thoroughly dry the basil.
In the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the metal blade, pulse the garlic and pine nuts until finely chopped.
Add the basil and process until finely chopped (you may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula a few times during chopping).
With the blades still running, add the olive oil in a stream through the feed tube until the “pesto” begins to form and easily flows around the bowl.

Remove to a bowl, and mix in Parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Set aside.  Note: Press a piece of plastic wrap over pesto so the air does not turn it black.

For vegetables:

2 Italian eggplant, halved lengthwise

1 zucchini, halved lengthwise

1 yellow squash, halved lengthwise

1 red pepper, halved lengthwise and seeds/stem discarded

1 red onion, quartered

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

Brush all vegetables with olive oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place on grill and cook approximately 5-7 minutes per side (keep an eye on them, because depending on size, some may cook faster than others).

Remove to a platter and brush with pesto.

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