After lunch this past Sunday, Scott asked the question I wait for each year at this time.
“Hey, wanna run over to Home Depot? I noticed, when I was there on Friday, that they got their first shipment of fresh herbs in. Let’s check it out!”
Let’s just say there was no dawdling on my part and within minutes, with my shoes on and purse in hand, we were on our way. What Scott didn’t realize was that all the spring veggies and herbs were on sale, so we ended up walking out with a small boatload of them. The big box of green herbs we toted home made me excited about warmer days ahead and the wonderful flavor the fragrant herbs lend to most everything that comes out of my kitchen during the warm months of the year.
Scott will be cleaning out the pots and repotting the lovely herb plants this week. We have a herb garden on our deck and he has come up with an ingenious self-watering system. It gets really hot here in North Carolina, usually starting in May and continuing all the way through September. A day without water here can be the demise of just about any potted plant, but with his drip system, we don’t ever have to even think about the plants drying up. It’s all done automatically. Twice a day, every day. How cool is that?
I get a somewhat stern warning every year after he pots the new herbs: “Give the poor plants time to get established before you start scalping them”. Easy for him to say! I have to use every bit of self control to keep from running out there numerous times a day with my little kitchen shears. Don’t tell him this, but I’ve learned, over the years, to snitch a tiny bit here and a tiny bit there, so he can’t even tell there’s anything missing. I actually learned this trick from him, except he does it with a plate of cookies, brownies, etc – he rearranges them on the plate so that nary a soul would know there are any missing. But now I’m getting sidetracked. I’ll save that funny story for another day.
The only thing that’s a little disappointing to me is that basil, my uncontested, favorite herb, is not available for outdoor planting yet. It’s the one herb that doesn’t do well if planted too early in the spring. Basil is a lazy-days-of-summer lover and it seems the hotter and sunnier, the more it thrives. I love the bright, spicy, super delicious flavor it imparts to so many of my dishes.
But guess what? I have a fun way of bringing that vibrant basil flavor into my menus all year long. All you need is a package (or little box) or two of grocery store basil, canola oil (or another neutral-tasting oil) and a splash of olive oil. There are a few steps to follow to insure beautifully hued, fresh tasting oil, but they’re pretty simple and the results are amazing.
The basil is placed in a strainer and given a shower of boiling water (this blanching process neutralizes the enzymes that cause the leaves to turn brown). Drain and dry the blanched leaves and throw them in a blender or food processor. A quick whirl with the oil and the green puree is poured into a small pot and brought to a boil. This is where the magic starts: within a minute or so the dark green herb-y liquid transforms into a bright emerald color. Almost done! Just straining the oil remains, and then we’ll be really talking magic.
This tasty, fresh-flavored oil can be used to add a delicious, gourmet touch to all kinds of things. Try drizzling it on grilled shrimp or chicken. It’s also makes a wonderful finishing sauce for salmon, halibut, cod and pan-seared scallops.
We love serving small individual bowls at each place setting and using the Basil Oil as a dipping sauce for crusty bread. Just be warned though: it wouldn’t be unusual for your guests to eat so much Basil Oil-dipped bread that the don’t have room for the rest of your lovely meal.
Having a jar of this oil stashed in the fridge makes fabulous appetizers super simple. Serve it drizzled over a log of goat cheese or atop fresh ricotta smeared crostini. It also pair beautifully with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for delicious “Capri” bruschetta. How about adding a splash next time your make mashed potatoes.
See what I mean? The sky’s the limit in ways to incorporated this verdant-hued oil into your culinary endeavors. If you’re longing for fresh, summer flavor no matter what time of year it is, be sure to whip up a batch of Basil Oil. You’ll have deliciousness greeting you each time you open the refrigerator door!
P.S. One more thing. I adapted my basil oil technique from a recipe at Pitch Fork Diaries blog. Catie, the proprietor at Pitch Fork Diaries learned it while studying at The French Culinary Institute in New York City. That means you should feel quite “chef-y” when using this delicious condiment in your cooking!
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- 1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves*
- 1-2 quarts boiling water
- 3/4 cup neutral flavored oil such as canola or sunflower oil**
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil**
- Place basil leaves in a strainer over a large bowl. Slowly pour boiling water over the fresh herbs. Immediate rinse with lots of cold water (this stops the cooking process), then allow to drain.
- Roll the herbs on several thickness of paper towels and squeeze dry, then squeeze again, to remove as much water as possible.
- Put blanched herbs in a blender or the bowl of a food processor. Add the oils and blend well for about a minute.
- Pour pureed herb and oil mixture into a small sauce pan on medium heat. Slowly bring the herb oil to a simmer and then cook for about a minute longer, stirring gently, until you see the mixture transform to a bright green color. You'll notice the color change first at the edges and then it will spread to the center.
- Don't let the oil cook at too high a heat, it could burn or fry the basil. Turn down if bubbling too rapidly.
* There is approximately 3/4-1 cup of basil leaves in a typical grocery store plastic container. The more basil you use, the more intensely basil-y the oil will taste. Trader Jo's has a wonderful, large package of basil for a very reasonable price.
**Don't try to use all olive oil. The flavor is too strong and will take away from the delicious basil flavor. A bit of olive oil adds a richness to the finished oil.