Category Archives: Basil

This is how you learn.

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Farm Camp at Arcadia

Farm Camp at Arcadia
Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi.

“They have farm camp?!” I asked my friend Pamela Hess. “That is the coolest thing ever!”

To my complete delight, she invited me to do a cooking class with the campers at Arcadia, a cool, non-profit farm – where Pamela is the Executive Director – dedicated to reconnecting us with our food and the people who produce it. These kids have spent a week feeding chickens, pulling weeds, harvesting fresh produce and learning how to cook. They already knew amazing recipes like zucchini pasta, fresh salsa, and veggie quesadillas. They even have mad knife skills.

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Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

From the second I arrived they were all over me. “Who are you? How’d you become a chef? What are we cooking?” They uncorked bottles of vinegar and oil knowing instinctually to smell them. When they found something they loved, they immediately shared it with someone else. They asked how we were using each new ingredient and tool that I placed on the table.

We cooked together for just over an hour, far longer than my childhood attention span. We made pan con tomate, and tossed vinaigrettes over zucchini and corn, and arugula, fresh from Arcadia’s farm.

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Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

During Q&A one of the campers asked me how I learned to cook. I talked about the years I spent exploring and practicing in the kitchen, but they didn’t really need an answer from me. When it comes to learning, they are already experts.

Pan con tomate

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 18 slices of baguette, 1/4″ thick, about 1/2 of a baguette
  • 1-2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 large tomatoes
  • Maldon or other flaky sea salt
  • Olive oil – the good stuff!
Farm Camp at Arcadia

Farm Camp at Arcadia
Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

Directions:

  • Warm your oven to 400 degrees and toasts the bread until crisp and golden on the edges, about 8-10 minutes.
  • Rub toasted bread a couple of times with the clove of garlic.
  • Cut each tomato in half and grate into pulp using a box grater. If the pulp is really watery, strain through a fine sieve to thicken.
  • Spread a teaspoon of pulp over each baguette slice. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with a drop or three of oil, and serve.

Corn and Zucchini Salad

Serves 6-8

Cutting corn off the cobIngredients:

  • 1 large zucchini cut in a 1/2″ dice
  • 4 ears corn, kernels removed
  • 1 tbs chopped basil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar – we used Blackberry Balsamic
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!

Directions:

  • Mix together zucchini, corn and basil in a large bowl.
  • Chop garlic, sprinkle with coarse salt – like sea salt or Kosher salt – and mash into a paste on your cutting board using the flat side of your knife or the tines of a fork.
  • Add the garlic to a small bowl with the vinegar and honey. Whisk together.
  • While whisking, pour the oil into the vinegar mixture, in a thin stream. Whisk until it forms a thick, creamy emulsion.
  • Dress the veggies lightly and serve.

Fresh Arugula Salad

Serves 6

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Photography by Gene Buonaccorsi

  • 1/2 pound baby arugula
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 cup vinegar – we used Pomegranate vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2/3 cups olive oil – the good stuff!

1.4 whisking vinaigretteDirections:

  • Place the arugula in a large salad bowl.
  • Chop garlic, sprinkle with coarse salt – like sea salt or Kosher salt – and mash into a paste on your cutting board using the flat side of your knife or the tines of a fork.
  • Add the garlic to a small bowl with the vinegar and honey. Whisk together.
  • While whisking, pour the oil into the vinegar mixture, in a thin stream. Whisk until it forms a thick, creamy emulsion.
  • Dress the salad lightly, tossing with tongs to coat. A perfectly dressed green salad should just glisten with dressing and there should be almost nothing left in the bottom of the bowl when you’re done serving.
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Mom was very, very right.

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Zucchini Pappardelle Pasta

Photography by Sam Armocido

When Mom said we were having a vegetable for dinner – say zucchini or green beans – it was, typically, just that. They were steamed, seasoned with salt and pepper, and possibly tossed with fresh herbs, usually parsley or basil from the garden. If Mom felt the rest of the meal was sufficiently healthy, she would add a small pat of butter. This, it turns out, is a fabulous way to serve almost any vegetable.

We should have been less surprised then, I suppose, by the overwhelming success of a recent attempt at zucchini pasta. I think it was the “pasta” that misled us. I mean, I have trouble thinking that sautéed strips of squash are in any way going to deliver the deep satisfaction of semolina spaghetti. I was wrong. (And, because I would never hear the end of it from my husband, let’s keep that little admission just between us.)

The long strips we quickly shaved with a vegetable peeler resembled wide pappardelle noodles. Cooked over low heat to keep the flavor light, we tossed in garlic and a splash of lemon juice, fresh basil and a grating of Parmesan cheese. We then made another batch, arguing that we should probably try adding fresh tomato.

Our third panful confirmed it was actually fine without the tomato, and the fourth we needed for a photograph. We are currently planning future batches to serve under chicken piccata and shrimp scampi.

You know, just to be on the safe side, I going to retract any admission that I was wrong. Let’s simply say my Mom was very, very right.

Zucchini Pappardelle Pasta

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil – the good stuff!*
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced into thin ribbons
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs chopped parsley
  • 1 tbs chopped basil
  • 1-2 tbs lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

*We use Sapore’s Frantoio, a light, buttery Italian oil. (Which you can order online.)

Directions:

  • Warm 1 tbs olive oil over medium heat in a 12” skillet. Add zucchini and sauté, turning often with tongs, until beginning to soften, about 3 minutes.
  • Add garlic and cook until zucchini is softened, about 3 minutes longer.
  • In skillet, toss in parsley, basil, lemon juice and remaining 1 tbs olive oil.
  • Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Pounding soup.

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My Mom gave me a small photo album on my 21st birthday. In each sleeve was tucked a recipe card, and every recipe reminds me of her. I’ve got Mom’s zucchini bread and her father’s braised red cabbage. She also included her Soup au Pistou. Pistou – which translates to “pounded” – is a French version of Italian pesto without the pine nuts.

With the addition of hard cheese and fresh tomato, pistou is stirred into this Provençal vegetable soup. It’s a perfect way to enjoy the last of the season’s zucchini and green beans. It’s rich with vegetable stock and hearty with the addition of pasta and white beans*.

The card in my book attributes the recipe to my Godmother, Aunt Ali, and to her sister-in-law, my Aunt Barb. Mom has made a few changes of her own, and now so have I.

But I still use broken spaghetti for the pasta. It reminds me of Mom, and that makes it taste better.

*I try and avoid typically over-salted canned beans in favor of soaking and cooking my own. This, however takes time and planning, so the “optional” beans are usually left out.

Soup Au Pistou

Ingredients

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 medium potato, diced
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 whole ribs celery
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sprigs each thyme and parsley
  • 4 cups sliced summer squash
  • 2 cups green beans in 1” pieces
  • 1 cup small pasta, like elbows or broken spaghetti
  • 2 cups cooked Cannelloni or Great Northern beans
  • 1-1.5 cups pistou sauce (see below)
  • Sherry vinegar

Directions:

  • In a 4 qt soup pot, over medium heat, heat olive oil.
  • Sauté leeks for five minutes, add garlic, carrots and potato and cook, covered for 3-5 minutes.
  • Add stock, celery, bay and herbs. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until vegetables can be easily pierced with a fork.
  • Remove celery, bay and herbs. Add squash, green beans, white beans and pasta. Cook for 15 minutes until pasta is al dente.
  • Stir through pistou sauce or serve on the side and allow your guests to add their own.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, sherry vinegar and butter, if needed, for richness.

Chive Pistou Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup basil leaves, not packed
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1 medium tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 cup Chive Oil*

*You can substitute good olive oil, but Sapore’s new Chive Oil is lightly grassy, adds great depth, and makes this sauce extra wonderful! Stop in or order some online.

Directions:

  • Pound garlic, with a pinch of coarse salt, into a paste.
  • Add basil and pound into garlic.
  • Add parmesan 1/4 cup at a time and pound into a thick paste.
  • Add enough tomato to make a thick sauce.
  • Stir in oil and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Take out takeout.

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I love Asian food. Much to my husband, Jason’s, regret, I could eat it every meal of every day. If I had to pick favorites, they would be mú xī pork, tom yum soup and Thai eggplant. In pursuit of better health and frugality, I want to know how to make these at home.

It’s easier said than done. I’ve tried five recipes each for mú xī’s combination of cabbage, egg and pork wrapped in light, wheat flour pancakes, and the spicy, bright flavors of lemon grass, kaffir lime, cilantro and stock I’ve downed in bowl after bowl of tom yum. All to no avail.

Last week, after three dinners in a row of Thai eggplant, I finally cracked the code. Extra palm sugar and soy help lift and balance the earthy bitterness of the eggplant. Thai basil, chili oil and vinegar make it bright. Red peppers and shitake mushrooms give depth of flavor.

Now back to work on the other two*. Sorry honey.

*I’d welcome any suggestions on these two dishes! The sooner I get them right, the sooner Jason gets to stop eating my attempts week after week.

Stir Fried Eggplant

Ingredients:

  • 3 tbs peanut oil
  • 4 cups Thai or Japanese* eggplant cut in 1.5” cubes
  • 2 cups thinly sliced Shitake mushrooms
  • 1 medium red pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup Thai or Italian (common) basil, not packed

Sauce:

  • 2 tbs each soy sauce
  • 2 tbs palm sugar*
  • 1 tbs fish sauce
  • 1 tbs Merken Chile Oil*
  • 1 tbs Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar*
  • 1 tbs cornstarch

*Substitutions: Yes, there are a lot of ingredients here, and many you may not have on hand. Here are some easy substitutes. Thai eggplant are small and thin. You can cube a large, Italian eggplant and use that instead. Palm sugar tastes identical to Maple sugar. You can use brown sugar too. Merken Chile Oil and Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar are both from Sapore in DC. I’ve gone through two bottles of the Serrano Chile Honey Vinegar since Renee introduced it a month ago. Order them online, or use chili oil and rice wine vinegar from the Asian section of your grocery store.

Directions:

  • Heat 2 tbs peanut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add eggplant and cook approximately 5 minutes until softened and golden. The eggplant will look translucent. Remove from pan.
  • Reduce heat slightly, add remaining tbs peanut oil in same skillet and add red pepper and Shitakes. Cook 3-5 minutes until softened.
  • While mushrooms and peppers cook, whisk together the sauce ingredients in a separate bowl with 1/4 cup warm water.
  • Add garlic and return eggplant to pan. Cook 1 minute.
  • Whisk sauce and add to pan. Stir with ingredients until it is reduced and coats the vegetables.
  • Add basil, stir through. Season to taste with white pepper and serve.

Plato tradicional.

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I love quesadillas, that authentic Mexican treat that I first enjoyed overlooking Boothbay Harbor in Maine. It was the day before my 21st birthday and Sandy Larsen née Bugbee took me out to dinner. I believe that evening’s special involved crab and brie. Authenticity aside, it was delicious, and certainly freed me to think beyond chicken and cheese.

Just about anything tastes good grilled between two tortillas with hot melted cheese, including, it turns out, peaches. Sounds funny, right, but think about the joy of peach salsa over grilled chicken or with salty tortilla chips. Peaches are a natural with sharp Amish cheddar, mild Asian Barbecue sausage from Canales Quality Meats, warm cumin and bright red onion between hearty corn tortillas.

I cook the sausage and onions and assemble these ahead of time for entertaining. Stack them in the fridge, pull them out and fry them right up. A pizza cutter is your best friend for slicing these without pushing all the filling out. No salsa is needed, but this smoky peach salsa would gild the lily* beautifully.

*We don’t us phrases like “gild the lily” nearly often enough anymore. “Right as rabbits” is a bit neglected too.

Peach Quesadillas

Ingredients:

  • 3 Asian Barbecue sausages*
  • 1 red onion, diced and sautéed
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 8-10 6” corn tortillas
  • 2 – 3 cups grated Cheddar cheese
  • 3 peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • Olive oil

*No Asian Barbecue sausages on hand? Sauté any good pork sausage and add a tsp of Chinese 5 Spice powder and a tablespoon of soy while cooking.

Directions:

  • Squeeze the sausage from the casings and sauté over medium heat, breaking them up with a spoon until crumbled, browned and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve.
  • Add 1 tbs olive oil to pan and sauté onion until softened and edges begin to brown. Season with cumin, salt and pepper.
  • Layer one corn tortilla with cheese, cooked sausage, peach slices, onions and basil. Top with more cheese and a second tortilla.
  • Fry quesadillas in 1 tbs oil over medium heat, about 3 minutes per side, turning once when the tortilla begins to brown in spots.
  • With a pizza cutter, slice into wedges and serve.

I wouldn’t change a thing.

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It’s been a dry summer in Southern Virginia on the Chesapeake. Irrigation ponds are down four feet or more and many farmers have  let row crops slide to take care of their livestocks’ drinking needs. on a personal – and  far lesssignificant – level, this means that Ellis and Paul won’t be picking up crates of late season tomatoes on their Sunday drives home from the Northern Neck.

My husband Jason has mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it means no frantic Tuesday nights spend blanching, peeling and seeding a couple hundred tomatoes before they go bad. On the other, it threatens a winter freezer free of quart after quart of tomato sauce, preserving the fresh, bright taste of late summer tomatoes and licorice-y basil.

I blame Jason’s conflicted feelings on Andrew Carmellini. His cookbook, Urban Italian, contains a fresh sauce recipe so perfect that we haven’t changed a thing. It may be the one recipe I have never tweaked, not even a little. Lots of fresh tomatoes, cooked quickly and seasoned with basil and garlic-infused olive oil create a bright, sweet and spicy sauce, as easy and non-complex on your palate as it is to cook in 45 minutes per batch.

In Ellis and Paul’s stead, I’m reaching out to Dan at Agora Farms, who can hook me up with the best tomatoes grown in Lancaster County, PA. Dan, we’re going to be needing tomatoes. And lots of them!

Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce

You can use plum tomatoes, like Romas or San Marzanos, for a richer sauce. I don’t even bother to peel and seed them. They will release a lot less water, so take less out and keep a close eye on them. 

Peeled tomatoes

Ingredients:

  • 12 fresh beefsteak type tomatoes*
  • 1 head garlic, top chopped to expose cloves
  • 1 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil – the good stuff!**

*Three fresh tomatoes and a pound of pasta will make a hearty meal for four people. Don’t worry about being too exact on the infused oil proportions, just make a little less and add it to taste.

**I’ll be using the spicy Sicilian oil from Sapore.

 

Sauce on the stove

Directions:

  • To peel tomatoes, cut an “X” in the skin at the base and blanch them in boiling water until the skin wrinkles and cracks – 30 seconds to 1 minute. Shock the tomatoes in ice water. The skins will slide off easily. Return the water to a boil between batches.
  • To seed tomatoes, cut in half and squeeze them over the sink, watch for seed explosions that will cover the walls of your kitchen. Laugh richly and keep going.
  • Chop tomatoes roughly and place in a large, shallow stock pot over medium heat. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt.
  • Cook tomatoes until soft and bright red, about 45 minutes.
  • Remove liquid while cooking. A total of about 2-3 cups. You want the sauce to remain wet and liquid, but not soupy. Save some of the tomato water in case you take too much out early on.
  • While tomatoes cook, place garlic, basil, pepper flakes and olive oil in small saucepan over medium heat. Simmer until basil begins to crackle and pop. Reemove from heat and let the flavors infuse the oil for twenty-ish minutes.
  • Strain oil into tomatoes. Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Blend with masher or immersion blender.
  • Will freeze through the winter. (If you don’t eat it all immediately!)

High as an elephant’s eye.

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My Dad did his PhD thesis on corn. At night my Mom typed out page after page, over 100, on a typewriter. Corn expertise was highly regarded in our home. Dad taught us that all vegetables have sugars which, once harvested, convert to starch. This happens faster in some vegetables than others. Corn is one of the fastest.

As a kid, when corn was on the dinner menu, Dad and I would stop by Sapowsky’s on the way home and wait in their dirt driveway, outside the farm stand, for the next cartload of corn to come in from the fields. We would grab a dozen and head home, where Mom already had water boiling. As soon as we pulled into the driveway I would get out, shuck the corn, Mom would boil it for a couple of minutes and we would eat it, hot and fresh, usually without any butter or salt.

Today’s cultivars of corn have more stable sugars, but corn is still best picked during the cool hours of the morning, quickly refrigerated and eaten as soon as possible. These salads celebrate the light, sugary sweetness of raw corn and should be made with the freshest corn you can find.

Southwest and Herbed Goat Cheese Raw Corn Salads

This Southwest salad is just dying to be served over carnitas tacos! The Herbed Goat Cheese version is a perfect, light summer picnic salad. Serve it alongside herb and wine poached chicken and a perfect loaf of crusty country bread slathered in farm-fresh butter. Just a thought.

For Salad:

  • 2 ears fresh corn, husked
  • 1/2 red onion, diced

Slice the kernels from the corn, mix with the red onion and toss with one of the following dressings.

For Southwest dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs goat cheese
  • 1 tbs finely chopped basil
  • 1/2 lime, juiced – about 2-3 tbs
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/3 cup Red Merken Chili Oil*

*Red Merken is a spicy chili oil with nice depth. Substitute another chili oil or order online from Sapore.

Directions:

  • Mash garlic into a paste with coarse salt.
  • Stir together cheese, garlic paste, basil, lime juice and cumin.
  • Whisk in Red Merken Chili Oil.
  • Lightly dress corn and onions.

For Herbed Goat Cheese dressing:

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tbs goat cheese
  • 1 tbs finely chopped tarragon
  • 1 tbs lemon juice.
  • 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa Vinegar*
  • 1/2 cup Mission Olive Oil*

*The Champagne Mimosa Vinegar is light with a hint of fruit. Substitute any light white wine vinegar. Mission olive oil is light and grassy. They can both be ordered online from Sapore.

Directions:

  • Slice kernels from the corn. Toss with onion in a medium bowl.
  • Mash garlic into a paste with coarse salt.
  • Stir together cheese, garlic paste, tarragon, lemon juice and Champagne Mimosa Vinegar.
  • Whisk in Mission Olive Oil.
  • Lightly dress corn and onions.