No denying – in fact no escaping – it’s basil and tomato season. The combo is everywhere, at every level of splendor. Amazingly, even in August there are restaurants awash in styrofoam agribusiness tomatoes, leathery, soap-flavored basil and mozzarella the texture of something vulcanized, but in most cases you can count on getting something pretty good, and often you get something pretty great: a combination of dead ripe, sweet home grown tomato and tender young sun-kissed basil, one of gastronomy’s finest pairings, an all time winner –
just not all the time, dammit!
Let’s consider giving it a rest, and not only because this marvy duo is less than fun when it shows up for the 10th time in a week. Time apart is also a boon to the tomatoes, which always end up playing second fiddle to their minty/musky friend.
But that doesn’t mean basil should be neglected, not when it’s so good with snap beans, summer squash, grilled fish , pasta – pesto! (recipe follows) – and if you are feeling nouvelle, nectarines.
Basil that’s ready to cut back right now. ( 3 or 4 days ago, actually) .See below for details.
* Harvesting. It’s best to gather basil at the end of the day. Flavor is strongest and sweetest then, and evening-cut stems last longer. Just be sure to get out there before the dew falls; wet leaves muck up recipes and rot fast in storage.
* Storing. Basil and the refrigerator are not friends; the cold turns the leaves black in very short order. It does pay to keep the stems in water, and since there’s nothing like having the inspiration right in front of you when you’re cooking, I usually keep a bouquet of basil (along with other tender herbs such as parsley, dill, summer savory, and cilantro) in a jar of water near the prep area. Just strip all leaves that would be below the water line before you submerge the stems; change the water daily; and keep the jar out of the sun.
* Plant maintenance and multiplication. Basil gets grassy flavored and leathery as soon as it starts forming flowers. It also stops making green growth. So don’t let it bloom.
As soon as you see the slightest indication that flower stems are about to start, cut plants back, at least 2 or 3 branches down and even farther is better. Pruned plants will rebound quickly, sending out tender stems and tender leaves. As a plus, pruned-off stems with several leaf nodes can often be persuaded to send out roots.
Choose stems that do not have flowers. Store in jars of water as described above. Pot ’em up when roots are about ½ inch long and you’ll have plenty of young plants to tide you over the swing season (frosty nights; warm days; pots of basil in the sun, sheltered from frost by the porch roof). Be warned that if you root stems that have flower nodes you will not have young plants. You’ll have new old plants, which will promptly make tough flowering stems instead of tender growth.
(from The Modern Country Cook )
This is actually more a pistachio sauce with basil than anything that could legitimately be called pesto, but it’s a nice change from the usual, for which everyone already has a favorite recipe. I used to be of the opinion that this mixture did not freeze well but I’ve changed my mind – it’s fine. Just be sure to wrap air-tight and freeze in small quantities.
For about 1 ½ cups, 4 to 6 servings:
1 large clove of garlic, minced fine
3 tbl. freshly grated Parmesan
4 oz. unsalted , shelled roasted pistachios
2 lightly packed cups basil leaves
1/3 to ½ cup light cream ( or ¼ cup whipping cream and some milk)
Put the garlic , cheese and nuts in a food processor and grind until the nut chunks are a bit smaller than those in chunky peanut butter. Add basil, stir to get it under the blades and grind again, freeing the leaves with a knife from time to time, until you have a homogenous paste. Whirr in enough dairy to turn the sauce the consistency of mayo. Salt to taste that’s it.