Six Things to Do With an Abundance of Basil

Basil is at the top of the list of “best buys” at summertime farmers markets.  The herb is so fragile, beginning to turn black in the refrigerator in several days, that supermarkets have a hard time keeping it in stock for a reasonable price.  At a good farmers market, you can buy bulging bundles of just-picked basil fro a dollar or two. That would be a bargain at twice the price, in my book.  Here are some ways to put large quantities of basil to good use.

Basil Pesto

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, packed (optional)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • salt and cracked black pepper to taste
  1. Place ingredients in a food processor, starting with half of the ingredients if the processor bowl is small, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the container.  Blend until pesto forms a thick, smooth paste.
  2. Stone in refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to a week, or freeze for a few months.

Pesto Vinaigrette

  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (optional)
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, stems removed
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. In the bowl of a food processor, puree garlic and salt until a paste if formed. Add pine nuts and basil and process until a fine  paste formed.
  2. With motor running, add vinegar and then slowly add oil in a thin stream until the mixture is emulsified. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Basil Anchovy Dipping Sauce

  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves
  • 4 ounces anchovy fillets, drained
  • 1/2 to 2/3 cup olive oil
  • Fresh vegetables, for dipping
  1. Mash garlic with a press or the back of a knife.  In a food processor, combine basil, pine nuts, parsley and anchovies, and puree. Add garlic. With motor running, pour in enough oil through feed tube to make mixture smooth but not runny.
  2. Serve with fresh vegetables, such a sliced fennel bulb, sliced red peppers, celery, green onions, mushrooms, radicchio leaves, radishes, carrot slices and cucumber slices.

The following recipe is from Rockenwagner, a cookbook published by Hans Rockenwagner, a German-born, French-trained chef who has has lived and cooked in Los Angeles since the mind-1980’s at his restaurant named, you guessed it, Rockenwagner.  His cooking is both earthy and sophisticated, he says, as his recipe illustrates.

Creamy Basil Sauce

  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 small cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2  heavy cream
  • 1-1/2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • freshly ground white pepper to taste
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces
  1. In a medium nonreactive saucepan, combine the wine and garlic; bring to a simmer and reduce by half.  Add the stock and return to a simmer.  Reduce to two-thirds of the original volume, until 1 1/3 cups of liquid remains. Add the cream and return to a simmer, then remove from the heat and set aside to cool, uncovered.
  2. Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil. Add the basil and blanche for 2 minutes.  Remove the leaves with a skimmer and, as soon as they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible.  Immediately combine the blanched basil with the milk in a blender (this will stabilize the color of the basil).  Blend for about 3 minutes, adding more milk if necessary to make the mixture move easily, scraping down the sides of the container as necessary.  When the mixture is bright green and the basil is completely pureed, gradually add the cream mixture with the motor running.  Add the salt and white pepper and strain the sauce into a clean pan.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
  3. To complete the sauce, bring it to a simmer over medium-heat.  Stir in half the butter and continue to stir until all the pieces have been absorbed. Immediately remove from the heat and whisk in the remaining butter, whisking until all of the butter has melted and the sauce is emulsified.  Taste, adjust the seasonings if necessary, and use immediately.

Michael Chiarello, excutive chef at Tra Vigne restaurant in the Napa Valley, explains one tecnique for capturing the essence of herbs, such as basil, in his book, Flavored Oils: 50 Recipes for Cooking With Infused Oils. Basil-infused oil is an aromatic mixture that can be used as-is, to “get immediate flavor throughout the whole dish.”

Balsamic Basil Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp finely chopped shallots
  • 1 cup basil-infused olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. Whisk together vinegar, garlic and shallots in a small bowl.
  2. Whisk in basil oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.
  3. Keeps up to four days refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.