Every spring the boys and I really look forward to planning and planting our garden. Last year, in order to make room for more veggies, we moved our big variety of herbs into large round planters, which are located close to the house for easy access. Herbs are super easy to plant from seed and can be prolific all summer long if they are tended properly.
This year we have had an abundance of basil, which is a-okay by me, because it adds such a fresh flavor to so many dishes. But basil can be stretched beyond marinara and Caprese salad. Here are my three favorite ways to really enjoy the beauty of this spectacular herb.
- 1. -First things first, a cocktail. Even if you say you're not a gin drinker, you really do have to try this one. It's light, refreshing, and the hint of basil makes it really special. It's simply a modified version of a Basil Gimlet.
For a single cocktail you will need:
- 1 small bunch of basil leaves (about 6-7 good sized leaves, extra for garnish)
- 1/2 oz simple syrup (more if you prefer a sweeter drink)
- 1 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 oz of good gin (I like Hendricks or Wheat State)
- club soda
Place the basil leaves between the palms of your hands and roll gently a few times to release all that magical flavor. Toss the leaves into a cocktail shaker along with the lime juice and simple syrup, and muddle together. Add the gin and a generous amount of ice. Place the top on the shaker and shake vigorously (about 40-50 times). To make a gimlet, strain into a martini glass. To make the spritzer, strain into a tall glass over ice leaving room at the top for a splash of club soda. Garnish with a basil leaf. Tip: If you don't have a cocktail shaker, use a mason jar! Just be sure you to strain the cocktail before serving.
- 2. -If you ask my kids what my favorite thing to eat is, they will probably tell you salad. Even though that's far from true, it is what they see me eat almost every day. I really love the variety of herbs and veggies that summer gardening offers. It means I can ditch the lettuce and get creative, filling my bowl up with everything but lettuce. Fresh herbs can be a great component of any salad. My favorites are basil, parsley, cilantro, and dill.
cucumbers, grape tomatoes, celery, red onion, yellow bell peppers, parsley, basil, black olives, fresh corn shaved off the cob, and a simple dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. You could easily add a protein of diced chicken, shrimp, hard-cooked eggs, or your favorite cheese to give a little more umph.
- 3. -Pesto. Just thinking about it makes me hungry! Pesto is a staple in our kitchen, because it can be used in such a wonderful variety of ways, and it really is simple to make. In the winter months, I can usually find a nice substitute for homemade at Sam's club or my local grocer. Here are just a few of the ways we enjoy pesto:
- Mix into mayo and spread on sandwiches, or use it to make chicken salad.
- Add a little lemon juice or sun dried tomatoes to it and stir into a pasta salad.
- Brush onto chicken before adding breadcrumbs, then bake.
- Brush over grilled fish.
- Serve over warm, roasted vegetables.
- Serve with warm, crusty french bread as an appetizer.
- Spread over pizza crust and top with fresh mozzarella, broil until bubbly.
Easy Walnut Pesto:
1/2 cup walnuts
3 tablespoons chopped garlic (9 cloves)
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups good olive oil
1 cup freshly grated paremsan cheese
Place the walnuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 30 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the parmesan and puree for a minute. Serve, or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.
(Adapted from Ina Garten's original recipe.)
Do you have a favorite use for basil?
I'd love to hear about it in the comments!