The light during the day is changing. Summer is coming to a close. It is time to grab your basil from your garden and make something wonderful to eat.
I consider myself an amateur gardener. But I do love to reap the benefits of whatever I plant. We have worked at making our yard maintenance-free over the years, and it has been very easy to keep things growing with very little effort.
However, there are two factors that continue to change our level of success: how much our trees grow and how many deer visit our yard.
A number of years ago, we created a raised bed for a sunny area in our yard. This was to be our herb garden. We had success for the first few years, but as our beech tree in the center of the yard grew, our sunlight became partial and then mostly shade. We planted shade-loving impatiens in our herb garden.
This past spring, I decided to move our newly purchased herb plants into the only sunlight that still graces our yard. I purchased a large wooden planter box and planted several different types of basil, as well as other culinary herbs. The herbs loved it in that location, and I now have a large array of basil.
The most common variety is sweet basil, which is green and has the classic basil flavor. Thai basil has more of a licorice flavor and is very nice in stir-fry and vinaigrette. It has a very strong flavor, so less is more.
Red basil has a unique flavor, something like cloves. Try it in rice, as it will provide the full flavor. Lemon basil has a clear, crisp lemon flavor. It is great in pesto. Cinnamon basil has a distinct cinnamon flavor and can be used in baking, as well as combined in toppings for ice cream or fruit.
Basil is a member of the mint family and has the same medicinal benefits. It can be used as a digestive aid, as a mild sedative and for the treatment of headaches.
Basil’s volatile oils, orientin and vicenin, are two water-soluble flavonoids. They have been shown to slow the growth of disease-causing bacteria such as staphylococcus, including drug resistant strains.
Eugenal, present in basil and several other herbs and spices, inhibits COX, an enzyme related to inflammation, in a manner similar to the action of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Basil extract has also been shown to protect liver cells.
Basil’s oils are very sensitive to heat. To preserve these oils, add the basil at the end of cooking. Turn the heat off and stir in the basil. Using it raw is the best way to preserve the oils. Add to a salad or to top vegetables.
One of the best-known uses of basil is as one of the key ingredients of pesto, a mixture of basil, nuts and cheese. I have eliminated the cheese in this lemon basil pistachio pesto recipe and added a tangy flavor with the lemon basil, fresh lemon juice and garlic. It can be used on pasta, as well as a dip or a spread for sandwiches.
Basil also pairs well with tomatoes. Chop some basil on fresh tomatoes, or add some of the lemon basil pesto to each tomato slice to make a different version of caprese. Try the fresh marinara, and use it in the ultimate gluten-free vegan lasagna. (I love not having to cook the pasta).
You can also use basil in various ways around the house:
Attract with it: Beneficial insects love the flower of basil plants, especially bumblebees.
Deter with it: Basil plants repel flies and mosquitoes and may be helpful in deterring insets on plants nearby. If you are in the garden and the mosquitoes start biting, tear off a leaf of basil, crush it and rub it on your skin to help keep them at bay. Pots of hanging basil near a sunny door will discourage flying insects from coming in the house.
Bathe with it: A fresh infusion added to the bath water creates an invigorating bath.
Soothe with it: A tea of basil leaves is said to aid digestion, soothing the stomach after a heavy meal.
Preserve your basil leaves in any of these ways:
Freeze the leaves whole
You can use frozen basil exactly as you would with fresh leaves. The leaves will shrink as they freeze, so cup for cup, plan to use slightly less than if you were cooking with fresh basil.
Freeze whole basil leaves in these three easy steps:
Blanch: remove the basil leaves from the stem and blanch them in boiling water for 2 seconds.
Ice bath: transfer the leaves to an ice bath.
Dry and freeze: dry completely and store in a freezer-safe container, separating the layers with wax or parchment paper.
Puree and freeze fresh basil in these three easy steps:
Prep: Remove the basil leaves from the stem, then wash and dry completely.
Puree: Use a food processor to puree the fresh basil leaves with olive oil. Use 1 tablespoon of olive oil per 1 cup of basil.
Freeze: Freeze the pureed basil in an ice cube tray, then store in a large resealable plastic bag or freezer-safe container.
Oven dry basil in these 3 easy steps:
Prep: Remove the basil leaves from the stem, then wash and dry completely.
Dry: Set your oven to the lowest temperature. Place the basil leaves on a parchment-lined baking sheet, then place it on the upper rack of the oven. Bake for 2-4 hours, until leaves are crumbly.
Crumble and store: Remove the basil from the oven and cool. Crumble the basil
and store in airtight containers.
30 Minute Fresh Tomato Marinara
Makes 4 cups
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes stem pieces removed, any variety
Roughly chop the tomatoes and add them to a food processor. (No need to peel or seed them). Pulse the food processor until the tomatoes are broken down into a salsa-like texture (very small chunks). If you want your sauce to be completely smooth, rather than a bit chunky, see notes below.
In the widest pan you have (avoid using a sauce-pan), warm the olive oil over medium heat.
Add the garlic and cook for about 60 seconds, just until it becomes fragrant and sizzles a little bit.
Add the chopped tomato mixture and generous pinch of salt; stir. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, then reduce to to a steady simmer. Do not cover.
Continue cooking the sauce uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until thickened to your desired texture. (You may notice the marinara sauce looks pink at first, then eventually turns a brighter reddish orange as the tomatoes cook. Some of the oil will start to separate to the top. Cooking time will vary depending on the variety of tomatoes used, and will be longer if you don't use a shallow, wider pan.)
Stir in the chopped basil and turn the heat off. Add salt to taste. Let cool to room temperature.
Divide among freezer-friendly jars or other airtight containers.
Feel free to freeze it up to 4 months or keep in the fridge up to a week.
If you don't have fresh tomatoes, you can use two 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes, crushed in the food processor or by hand.
When choosing fresh tomatoes, smaller tomatoes will generally result in a sweeter sauce.
For a completely smooth sauce, I recommend either peeling the tomatoes and then pureeing in the food processor, or using a high-powered blender to finely pulverize and puree the skins and flesh of the tomatoes. This may require stopping a few times to scrape down the sides.
5 Minute Lemon Basil Pistachio Pesto
Makes 8 servings
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (if you use lemot basil, you don't need lemon zest)
1/3 cup shelled pistachios
4 garlic cloves
1 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
Place the basil, pistachios, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, zest (optional) and salt into the bowl of the food processor fitted with the S-blade.
Blend until ingredients are finely chopped then drizzle in the remaining olive oil with the food processor running.
NOTE: You may substitute the pistachios for walnuts or pine nuts.
10 Minute Thai Basil and Walnut Vinaigrette
Makes 1 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup of red wine vinegar
1 cup of coarsely chopped Thai basil leaves
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup walnut pieces
sea salt and pepper to taste
In the bowl of your food processor, combine the mustard, vinegar and basil.
Process for a minute. Season with salt and pepper. Process for another 30 seconds.
With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady drizzle. Shut off the machine and add the walnuts.
Pulse the machine in short bursts until the walnuts are chopped finely and evenly, but still discernible in the dressing.
Adjust the seasoning, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. If kept refrigerated in a glass jar, this dressing will keep until it is gone. It can also be frozen up to 4 months.
Ultimate Gluten Free Vegan Lasagna
Makes 8 servings
1 recipe tofu ricotta cheese (prepare in advance)
3 1/2 cups fresh tomato marinara
10 gluten free oven ready lasagna noodles
Miyoko's Vegan Mozzarella
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 red onion, thinly sliced
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh basil
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large portabella mushrooms, cubed
8 ounces carrots, peeled and grated
1 red or orange bell pepper, julienned
Nutritional yeast flakes (optional)
Tofu Ricotta "Cheese"
Makes 3 cups
14 ounces water-packed firm tofu, drained
2/3 cup yellow miso
2/3 cup water
1/2 cup tahini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 large garlic cloves
3 tablespoons fresh basil, roughly torn
3 tablespoons fresh oregano
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
Directions for Ricotta "Cheese"
Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. The cheese will keep for 2 days covered, and refrigerated.
Directions for Ultimate Lasagna:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large, heavy frying pan over medium high heat.
Add the onions, garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper. Saute for 5 minutes, or until the onions are tender.
Add the mushrooms and saute 8 minutes longer.
Add the carrots and red pepper slices and saute until everything is crisp tender; up to 10 minutes longer.
Oil a 13 by 9 by 2-inch baking dish with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread 3/4 cup of the sauce over the bottom of the dish.
Lay 3 noodles horizontally in a single layer atop the sauce (the noodles won't cover the bottom of the dish completely but will expand as they cook).
Spread 1 cup of the vegan ricotta over the noodles.
Cover the ricotta with half of the sauteed vegetables. Spread with 1/2 cup sauce and top with 3 more noodles.
Spread another cup of ricotta, another 1/2 cup sauce and the other half of the sauteed vegetables.
Top with 4 noodles to cover and spoon another 1/2 cup of sauce over the noodles.
Slice the mozzarella and evenly place on top of the sauce.
Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil.
Bake for 40 minutes or until the sauce bubbles and the noodles are tender.
Remove the foil and return to the oven. Turn the temperature up to 400 and bake for another 15 minutes, or until the top is starting to brown.
Remove from the oven. Let cool for 30 minutes before slicing and serving.
Sprinkle with nutritional yeast, if desired.
There is no need to precook the lasagna noodles for this lasagna. Just layer the dry noodles with the other ingredients, then cover the pan tightly to keep in all the steam during the baking. Don't overcrowd the baking dish with too many noodles though, because they expand as they cook.
The Tofu Ricotta spreads easily and works beautifully in lasagna. Pick the right type of tofu. Water-packed fresh or regular tofu is better when it is meant to stand in for a major recipe ingredient. Pick water-packed firm tofu for success with this dish.
Miyoko's Vegan mozzarella can be purchased at the Healthy Life Market in Charleston, WV. It will melt like regular mozzarella. If you can't locate this product, add more ricotta on by dabbng with a spoon.