Sunday, August 9, 2015

Culinary Corner: Basil is Our Friend!

This week, Elizabeth focuses on basil.  The season of basil is upon us and CSA members will get basil several of the next five or six distributions.  At least until the frost comes in September and finishes the plants off.  In addition to what Elizabeth shows here, we have a number of good recipes on the website and there is always the possibility of making a good batch of pesto and freezing it for later use!

As far as keeping basil fresh goes, we often will treat basil as a cutflower and the stem will often look good for 1 to 2 weeks (see the prior post on our blog).  Without further ado - we give you Elizabeth's post for our blog this week!

I’ve been waiting all summer for this post! For those who met me at distributions, you may remember a sauce I was obsessing over called basil rub. This is, hands down, my favorite summer staple. It’s similar to pesto, but unlike most pestos that rely on strong cheeses or pine nuts, basil rub contain just these ingredients: garlic, shallots, a hint of red wine vinegar, and just enough oil to cover. When you add pesto to a dish, the whole thing usually tastes like pesto. When you add basil rub to a dish, it enhances rather than overpowers.

When I say I put this on everything in the summer, I’m really not exaggerating. I’ll toss it with fresh or freshly roasted vegetables, use it as a steak sauce or marinade, as a base for summer salsas and relishes, toss it with pasta and so much more. I was first introduced to this recipe at my very first restaurant job, an American style farm-to-table restaurant in Burlington, Vermont. We joked that it was our restaurant’s mother sauce. Almost anything could be made better with a spoonful of basil rub.

Another key difference between basil rub and pesto is how you prepare it. To make pesto, most people toss a handful of basil in the food processor with all the other ingredients and let it rip. Basil rub is chopped by hand. I know what you’re thinking… the food processor is so much easier. I tried really hard to make this recipe work with my favorite kitchen gadget. The biggest problem I found is that the food processor is designed to crush. The basil leaves were pulverized, leaking chlorophyll that gave the final product a very muddy taste and texture. In the end, my picky taste won over convenience.

 This is something I will always do by hand, but if knife work intimidates you or if you’re doing this with kids, you may absolutely use the food processor. For those who would like to give chopping by hand a try, I offer the following tips with my recipe.

Basil Rub
Note: Elizabeth was kind enough to demonstrate the creation of Basil Rub during Thursday's CSA distribution and she is scheduled to do the same thing this coming Tuesday in Waverly.  Here is the recipe:

  • 1 lb Basil (leaves)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp chili pepper flakes (optional)
In a medium sized bowl, add the minced garlic, shallots, salt, chili flakes, olive oil, and 1 cup of the canola oil.

Pick all the leaves off the stem, leaving behind any budding flowers. Find 3-4 of the largest leaves and shingle them in your hand (pile them up into a stack). Stuff a handful of the smaller leaves inside and roll up tightly.Cut the roll into thin ribbons, then rotate the whole pile and cut across to give an initial chop.

There may be some larger pieces left, and that’s ok. You can chop through it a couple more times to break those up, but don’t spend too much time on it.

The final goal for the basil to look like this!
Immediately place the chopped basil into the bowl with the other ingredients and use a wooden or plastic spoon to completely submerge the basil in the oil. This will keep the leaves from browning as you work. Repeat these steps with the remaining basil, adding oil as you go to cover.

Store in a seal-able container and press a piece of plastic wrap directly on top to minimize exposure to air. Keep in the fridge for up to two weeks, or freeze.

Ready to store until you want to use it!
Now that you have basil rub, what to do with it? As it happens, basil rub make a fabulous cucumber salad. You may have even tried this one at distribution when I was demoing!

Cucumber and Basil Salad with Feta
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and diced 
  • Juice from half a lemon 
  • 3 tbsp basil rub 
  • Salt to taste 
  • Feta 
Toss the first three ingredients together in a bowl, and taste. Adjust to taste with salt, and crumble in some feta just before serving. It’s that easy!

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