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Basil: Herb and Spice Series #1

May 9, 2009 | by Chef Herschel Arnow

Nothing beats fresh basil.

A wise man said, "One should not eat anything that is not in season." Anyone who has ever tasted the difference between foods served with fresh herbs instead of the dried variety knows how wise he is. Today, most herbs can be bought fresh in the marketplace. I'm told that most herbs can be easily grown in a small sunny spot in the home. If you choose not to use fresh herbs, be sure to store the dry ones in lightproof jars in a dark cool place. Dried herbs retain their flavor best if pulverized just before using.

To substitute dried herbs for fresh ones, use 1/3 teaspoon powdered or 1/2 teaspoon crushed for every tablespoon fresh-chopped herbs. They are too limp for garnishes but have much the same seasoning strength as fresh.

Basil is in. You won't go to a good restaurant or read a food magazine without seeing basil on the menu or in the recipes. Basil is a very versatile herb that can be used with tomatoes, fish, eggs, or really any savory dish. Basil darkens quickly after cutting. When cooking, I use it even when it's very dark. I always use it without the stems unless I use it in soup.

Corn, Tomato and Basil Salad

Fresh, colorful and simple, this salad is the essence of summer. In the picnic basket, tuck a cold pack next to the dish to keep it at the right temperature.

6 Servings

6 large ears white corn, husked
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup (packed) thinly sliced fresh basil

5 plum tomatoes, seeded, chopped 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Using large knife, cut corn kernels from cob. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic; sauté 1 minute. Add corn; sauté until just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add half of basil.

Transfer corn mixture to large bowl. Cool slightly, stirring occasionally. Stir in tomatoes, vinegar, 3 tablespoons oil and remaining basil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover; chill 3 hours or up to 8 hours.

Classic Pesto

This uncooked seasoning can be used on pasta. About 2 tablespoons pesto to a portion of spaghetti with 3 tablespoons butter. Put one tablespoon in a bowl of minestrone soup or on a baked potato.

1 1/2 cup of basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup thinly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

With food processor running, drop in cloves of garlic until finely chopped. Turn off processor, add nuts, cheese, salt, pepper and basil. Process until finely chopped with motor running. Add oil until blended.

Creamy Basil Dressing

2 cups of fresh basil
3 tablespoons of onions, shallots, or leeks
1/4 cup vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup olive oil

Blend all ingredients in a processor until creamy.

Basil Lime Syrup

3/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon or lime
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup water
1 cup fresh basil

Boil sugar zest, juice and water until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat until cool. Discard zest. Add basil and blend 20 seconds. Pour through a fine strainer.

This syrup can be used in fruit salads. For fun, add 2 tablespoons syrup to an ice filled glass of seltzer.

For other recipes with basil see:

The Impromptu Dinner party – Pesto with Walnuts

Everyone Loves Shnitzel – Baked Herb Crusted Breasts
Everyone Loves Shnitzel - Kosher Version of Cordon Bleu


Chef's Secrets Spaghetti – Spaghetti Neopoletana

Please send me any comments, criticisms or "Keep it simple sweetheart" recipes that people say "This is great. Can I have the recipe?"

Yours truly,

Chef Herschel


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