Food Friday: Basil Bonanza


There are so many fruits and vegetables in season right now that we are having a trouble keeping up with them. There is a veritable glut of strawberries, asparagus, rhubarb, carrots, spinach and more. And lurking on our back porch is the biggest basil plant we have ever grown.

We haven’t done anything special to it except transplanting it from its grocery store plastic pot, and plunking it into the large pot it shares with a burgeoning heirloom tomato plant. I do mutter incantations over them when I water every morning, but that is it. No extra feedings of bionic growth elixir. No Miracle-Gro. The basil has decided to grow, and we are rushing to keep jogging along at its side.

We are always big fans of Caprese salad – it is so delicious and such an easy supper to whip up when it has been a frantic day in the Spy test kitchens. We tend to have a line up of tomatoes on the kitchen window sill all summer long (and it has been so hot so early that I am thinking of breaking out my bathing suit before Memorial Day!)and with the basil growing like kudzu on the back porch, there is no excuse not to invest in tomato futures. I plan to indulge in a fresh ball of mozzarella every couple of days to help keep our basil plant well-trimmed and busy.

Mr. Friday couldn’t find the dried up, gray parsley flakes he tends to favor for his Sunday morning eggs last week. He tossed in a couple of roughly torn basil leaves instead, and had a religious experience. Maybe this means we can go through the spices and toss out the decades old sage, rosemary and thyme, too!

We like a nice light pesto sauce for fresh pasta when the temperatures rise. Years ago we stopped adding the pine nuts, and instead make a nice thick paste of basil, olive oil, garlic gloves, salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese, that we swirl around the mini-food processor for a moment or two. If it seems too thick, we thin it with a little pasta water. We gave up the pine nuts because they were hard to find, are chock-full of cholesterol, and are expensive. Some people substitute walnuts, but I don’t like walnuts, so I have opted for simplicity.

Basic Pesto á la Spy
2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems)
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine basil leaves, oil and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced, and then smooth. Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer, because you will need a container of sunshine in your fridge for a rainy day.

Mr. Friday has a new wok, and has been assiduously tempering and seasoning it. I play sous chef, and shop, and chop, and slice, and dice. One of his new recipes for a Chinese stir fry calls for the addition of fresh basil, tossed in the wok at the very last minute of cooking. Wow. So many ingredients (and two trips to the Oriental market!) but so deelish!

On our weekly Friday night pizza nights we have broken all the rules in our shambling learning process. We had the heat too low, or the cooking time was too long, or we put the cheese on first, or we burnt everything to a crisp. (When preparing something every week for years and years, it is amazing how many disasters we have had – and yet the pizza is always delicious!) It was companionable way to spend time with our children, practicing measuring, rolling out dough, learning kitchen skills and messing about in clouds of flour. I cannot recommend it too highly. We used to add fresh basil as a topping, but didn’t realize that like the Chinese recipe, the basil is so much more flavorful, and is still pungent and GREEN, if added at the very end of the cooking process. Instead of the basil turning into a crispy, flavorless cinder after baking at 550° F for 8 minutes, now it emerges from the oven, slightly limp, but oozing flavor and basil-ness. And it looks pretty; always a plus.

Go rescue a basil plant, and give it a nice home on your back porch. It will feed you all summer.

Here is a weekend challenge for you:

“Everyone is guilty at one time or another of throwing out questions that beg to be ignored, but mothers seem to have a market on the supply.
“Do you want a spanking or do you want to go to bed?”
“Don’t you want to save some of the pizza for your brother?”
“Wasn’t there any change?””
-Erma Bombeck

About Jean Sanders

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