Ahh, September. The weather hasn’t yet turned cool and gardens here, in North America at least, are in their full glory. Besides the usual tomatoes and overabundance of summer squash, I found myself with a ton of fresh basil this September. Well not a ton, but over 5 pounds and considering how light basil leaves are, that feels like a ton of basil. I didn’t want any to go to waste and while I love basil pesto, I wanted to do more with my bowls and buckets of basil.
Even if you don’t have pounds and pounds of basil, you can still try these ideas as most only take a cup or two. My favorite thing about preserving and storing food for later months is that I can make things that aren’t easily found in stores. So take a small risk and try making something new with the abundance seasonal food that you can get right now!
I know my title says “Beyond Pesto” and I’ll get to the beyond part in a minute. I just can’t bring myself to write a post about basil without saying a little about this obvious choice to use up basil. It’s delicious on pasta, sandwiches, pizza, drizzled onto soups, used as a dipping sauce, thinned a little and used as salad dressing or eaten straight out of the container. I love the recipe in America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook as outlined here. I often use walnuts in place of pine nuts since I usually have them in my pantry and it’s great. I just toss all the ingredients in my food processor and blend until it’s a paste.
There are many variations on pesto such as adding roasted or sun dried tomatoes, as well as other herbs. This recipe for oregano basil pesto that was featured in a post earlier this summer sounds really good.
Many people love freezing pesto in ice cube trays so they can easily pull out small amounts as needed throughout the year. That’s great, but since it would take me forever to cycle huge quantities of pesto through my two ice cube trays, I put 1 cup amounts in freezer bags and stack them in my freezer. It’s awesome to pull out pesto and have a little taste of summer even in the dead of winter.
Branch out from the classic Italian variety with some spicy Asian variations. I made this recipe that included basil, cilantro, ginger, garlic, jalapeno and lemon juice but there are several other variations (here and here) that include peanuts and/or mint leaves as well. They all sound delicious. I froze mine in small amounts in freezer bags and plan on pulling it out to put on rice noodles and chicken or shrimp.
I love making jams and jellies so I was excited to discover basil jelly. While many recipes include the addition of green food coloring, I try to avoid artificial colors so I used this recipe, omitting the food coloring, and my jelly turned out to be a beautiful golden color. It’s quite sweet, as most jelly is, but has a strong basil flavor. It’s often recommended as an appetizer, to be served with cream cheese and crackers. I can’t wait to try that. I think it would be amazing in sweet treats like being brushed over a fruit tart or used in cookies but it would also be great as a glaze for chicken in a savory dish.
Stuff some torn basil leaves into a bottle of vodka, refrigerate for a few days, strain basil out and you have a delicious, herb scented alcohol. The basil flavor is not overpowering and pairs well with many other flavors. There are plenty of delicious recipes for drinks using basil vodka including bloody mary with basil vodka, basil vodka orange lime tonic, grapefruit basil spritzer, and strawberry basil smash. I just strained my basil vodka this evening and now you know what I’ll be drinking in the days to come!
Do you have a favorite way to store or preserve basil? Are there any crops you’re swimming in this summer? I’m sure we could fill a blog with “what to do with all that squash” posts!
(Pesto photo is by Flickr user madlyinlovewithlife and basil vodka photo is by benchilada)