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 for 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
Pesto Vinaigrette
Basil Anchovy Dipping Sauce
Creamy Basil Sauce
Basil-Infused Oil
Balsamic Basil Vinaigrette


Basil Pesto [top]

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
½ cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, packed (optional)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
½ cup olive oil
¼ 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 sides of container. Blend until pesto forms a thick, smooth paste.

2. Store in refrigerator in a tightly closed container for up to a week, or freeze for a few months.

Pesto Vinaigrette [top]

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 or using a mortar and pestel, purée garlic and salt until a paste is formed. Add pine nuts and basil and continue processing into a  fine paste.

2. With motor of processor running or using a whisk, add vinegar and then slowly add oil in a thin stream until the mixture is emulsified. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Basil Anchovy Dipping Sauce [top]

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 as 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 lived and cooked in Los Angeles since the mid-1980s at his restaurant named, you guessed it, Rockenwagner. His cooking is both earthy and sophisticated, he says, as this recipe illustrates.

Creamy Basil Sauce [top]

1 cup dry white wine
2 small cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup 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, them 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 blanch 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-high 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, executive chef at Tra Vigne restaurant in the Napa Valley, explains one technique 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.” Or it can be used as an ingredient in recipes such as the vinaigrette described below.

Basil-Infused Oil [top]

The technique for making infused oil is much the same whether the ingredient is basil, rosemary, oregano, garlic, chiles, mushrooms or citrus fruit. For every cup of olive oil, use two tightly packed cups of basil or any other soft-leaved green herb–chervil, chives, cilantro, mint. (Tarragon does not work well except early in the spring when it is very sweet, he writes. Otherwise it tends to taste bitter when infused.) Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the herbs, making sure that the leaves are submerged, and blanch for five seconds. Drain into a strainer and immediately plunge the herbs into a bowl of ice water. Drain well and squeeze out all liquid. Puree in a blender with olive oil. Strain puree immediately through a fine-mesh strainer. Strain again through four layers of cheesecloth. Put in a sterilized glass bottle, cover tightly and refrigerate. For optimum flavor, use within a week.

Chiarello recommends using a blender, which makes a finer, smoother puree and extracts more flavor than a food processor. To filter the mixture, he uses cheesecloth, which he first rinses and squeezes dry. Coffee filters can also be used, although they, too, should be rinsed and squeezed dry first. Patience is required. Pour the oil slowly, and stir occasionally. You will probably need several filters.

You can use the infused oil in, among other things, the following recipe for a vinaigrette, which tastes as good on chicken or roasted eggplant as on a green salad.

Balsamic Basil Vinaigrette  [top]

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. Whisk in basil oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Keeps up to four days refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.