Fresh basil is a real prize


Cliff Hutson/Wikimedia Commons Fettuccine al Pesto alla genovese.

I am trying to think of a time when I did not have at least two or three basil plants growing in my yard or on the deck. I still call it basilico, being that my Italian Nana always called it that.

At this writing, I just returned home from being evacuated for seven days, and of all things, I had been worried about my kitchen garden out on the deck, which would have been deprived of water all that time. I was amazed that everything was just fine, perhaps because the heavy smoke blocked out the sun. As soon as I can, I am going to make some pesto sauce.

After living in a camper that was parked in a school parking lot, we did a lot of snacking and having sandwiches for dinner. I hope everyone is safe from fires, COVID-19 and even political and social unrest. What a year.

Basic pesto sauce

I have used walnuts when I didn’t have pine nuts and it works just great.

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic (I would need a lot more than that)

1/4 cup pine nuts

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan)

1. In a food processor, combine basil leaves, garlic and pine nuts. Process until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and process until mixture becomes smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

2. If using right away, add the remaining olive oil and process again. Pour out into a serving bowl and mix in the grated cheese. If you want to freeze the sauce, transfer to an airtight container and drizzle the remaining oil over the top rather than mixing it in. Freeze for up to three months. When ready to use, thaw and mix in the cheese. Makes about 1 cup.

Zucchini and pea salad with fresh basil

I prefer to blanch the zucchini a bit before adding to this recipe.

1 medium zucchini

4 large basil leaves, chopped

30 pods English peas

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Solid piece of Parmesan Reggiano cheese

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Shave the zucchini into ribbons using a mandolin or Y-shaped peeler. 2. Shell the peas and steam them for about 1 to 2 minutes; rinse with cold water. 3. Mix peas and zucchini with lemon juice and olive oil. Season well and mix in chopped basil. Shave pieces of Parmesan Reggiano on top and serve.

Caprese kabobs

Nice little appetizers and so fresh tasting.

24 grape or cherry tomatoes

12 cherry-size fresh mozzarella cheese balls

24 fresh basil leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Herbs for seasoning and salt and pepper, optional

1. Using 12 bamboo or metal skewers, alternately thread 2 tomatoes, 1 cheese ball and 2 basil leaves. Place on a serving platter or individual plates. 2. Whisk oil and vinegar in a small bowl and season if desired with herbs of your choice or salt and pepper. Pour over the tomatoes, cheese and basil. Makes 12 skewers.

Caprese bread

Easy, no yeast.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup bread flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

3 1/2 to 4 ounces cubed fresh mozzarella cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

1/3 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes, do not pack tight

2 eggs

2 1/2 tablespoons grape-seed oil (can use olive oil)

1 1/4 cups buttermilk

1. Preheat oven to 350 and grease an 8-by-4-inch bread pan.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt until well mixed.

3. Add the basil, mozzarella and sun-dried tomatoes to the flour mixture and blend well.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs, oil and buttermilk. Pour liquids into the flour mixture. Mix until all ingredients are well combined. (The dough will be sticky.)

5. Transfer the dough into the prepared bread pan and spread evenly. Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes (until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.) Makes 1 loaf.

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