Thursday, June 23, 2011

ingredient: BASIL

I've never met a person who doesn't love basil. If there was a highschool for herbs, Basil would definitely be the most popular student. Yes, Basil would be the nice, sweet girl who always looks great and to whom people seem unable to say no. The prom queen to misunderstood Fenugreek or the average Joe Parsley. "I heard Basil and Pine Nut are going steady. Don't tell Tomato."

The name basil comes from the Greek word βασιλεύς, which means king. The most common basil in the western hemisphere is Sweet Basil, made famous through Italian cuisine, particularly caprese salads and pesto sauce. Sweet Basil has a mellow flavor and large, rounded leaves. Thai or Holy Basil is used Northeast Asian cooking, particularly in Thailand and Taiwan. It has a pronounced liquorish flavor and maintains its flavor more strongly after cooking than sweet basil.

Basil has become so popular in the U.S. that I see it sold in grocery stores year-round. There are two problems with this. The first is that Basil is extremely sensitive to cold weather, making it a summer food in these parts. I know it looks promising, but you are going to be sorely disappointed if you buy basil in the winter. So hold off, and gorge in the summer (i.e now!). The second problem (related to my desire to do the aforementioned gorging) is the price, which is frankly astronomical. I've paid four dollars for what can barely be described as a bunch and was really more like a few sad stalks. (I'm talking to you, Safeway of Palo Alto). The solution? Grow you own.

my basil plant!

This plant cost me 6 dollars (it's actually two pots, at $3 each), when I bought it at the farmers market in Union Square. I could sell this for like twenty bucks at the super market! I think I found a new venture to pay off my student loans. If I don't eat it first.

Basil Pesto and A Very Delicious Sandwich

Like probably every other person on this planet, I love pesto. What I love besides its taste is its versatility. If you have pesto, you have a pasta sauce, you have a crostini, you have a lovely dressing for roasted vegetables and a topping for fish. You also have a pretty stellar condiment for sandwiches.

Like what sandwich? Well, this Pesto-Salmon Sandwich, for instance:

This sandwich has great returns. It's super simple and supremely delicious. First, grill some salmon (wild please). Top that salmon with some basil pesto that you've whizzed up in about two minutes in your food processor. Add a few slices of summer-ripe tomatoes and put them on a chewy french baguette. What you have is sandwich heaven. The bread soaks up the juices from the fish and the olive oil. The basil has a sweetness that matches the barely sweet salmon, and is brought to life with the acidity from the tomatoes.


For Pesto:

1 Garlic Clove
2 Cups Fresh Basil
1/4 Cup plus 2 TBSP Toasted Pine Nuts
2/3 Cup extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Put garlic clove in the bowl of your food processor. Pulse until minced. Add basil and 1/4 cup pine nuts. Pulse until blended with a coarse, paste-like texture. While the motor is running, add the olive oil until emulsified.

Scoop pesto into a small bowl. Stir in parmesan cheese and remaining pine nuts (I like the texture and look of adding whole nuts to the pesto, but they are optional). Season with salt and pepper.

For Pesto-Salmon Sandwich:
serves 4

1 large french baguette cut into four pieces, or 4 rolls
1 pound salmon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup pesto
2 medium tomatoes, sliced

Directions :

Heat oil in a large ridged grill pan over medium high heat. Add salmon and grill until just cooked through, about 3 minutes per side (cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish. Count on about 8 minutes total per inch.) Cut cooked fillet into four equal pieces.

Spread one half of each baguette with 1/4 cup pesto. Top with tomato slices and one piece of the salmon. Eat.

(I served it with a delicious olive and tomato salad)

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