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Rambling around a basil problem

"it's always a race against the clock to use up every leaf before it starts to go south — not to mention a heart-breaker when it does. Talk about throwing money away!" Mackenzie Schiek/All Recipes

I haven't thrown money away on this bunch of basil which is already beginning to droop at the edges as you can see and soon it will go black. No it was a gift from Monika. Well I needed some for my Saturday meal for friends and so I asked her for some because I had forgotten to buy some. And, of course, generous lady that she is, she gave me more than I needed.

Simultaneously I also have a leftover

problem from our Saturday feast - mostly rice now but a little bit of beef kebab as well. now which of these is it more urgent to use and is it possible to combine them all? Not to mention the zucchini I was also given by Monika. I should also add that we aren't eating at home tonight - my lovely sister is taking us out to Paris Go for a meal to partly celebrate her birthday, partly a goodbye, and so no cooking tonight. So the basil will have to wait another day. But will it last?

So this is my beginning. The original idea was to just investigate various options for that much basil and present them to you. Which I guess is a little boring unless you have the same immediate problem. Generally speaking I think this sort of post has fewer readers. Not that this bothers me particularly as the prime purpose of this blog for me is to amuse myself and also to exercise my brain. However, I don't want to be totally boring.

Oh and I was looking for things other than pesto, because I still have some of that in the fridge. It's wonderful stuff and has multiple uses but I don't need any more at the moment.

As I wandered around the net looking for inspiration - none from Ottolenghi today you might be relieved to know - I of course became distracted by all sorts of other things. Some of which might be marginally more interesting than a list of recipes and pretty pictures. Some maybe not.

So I'll begin at the beginning with just a standard bit of a trawl. Several of the big websites such as delicious., Taste and Epicurious had lists of 'Things to do with basil that aren't pesto'. Epicurious had 87! However, even though they implied that their selections were for people with a major basil problem, many of their offerings just needed a couple of leaves for garnish. Which was no good for me.

So herewith the best options that I found more or less in the order in which they were found including some of the diversions, thoughts and questions that they induced.

Pasta, gnocchi and simple based based sauces first - and isn't it unsurprising that lots of the options were Italian. The first of these was: Gnocchi with burnt butter, lemon and basil from Taste - an option that was so tempting to me that I was almost sucked in. I mean there's even some zucchini in there. However, it probably still did not use enough of the basil. Besides it would entail making gnocchi. Much later in my searching I thought of Rachel Roddy and found her Spaghetti with lemon basil and breadcrumbs which is apparently Sicilian, and which I may have mentioned before. Very similar, but also different, but with the same basil problem. Either however is a prime contender for maybe Wednesday night - when there is another thing to be considered. It's book group and wine group night and although we ladies at book group just nibble daintily on cheese and dips, followed by cake, the rest of them at wine group have almost a full meal, so David never wants anything much to eat for dinner. There are always restrictions to work around. But don't they look great?

Chilli and basil quesadillas from Taste. Now I've never made quesadillas, but I do remember watching Jamie Oliver in one of his COVID making do videos making a large quesadilla filled with whatever he had in the fridge and being quite impressed. So maybe I should plunge into the quesadilla thing. These looked as if they used a heap of basil - and they did use a fair bit, but when I looked at the recipe I saw that the green that you can see there is probably spinach. So perhaps not quite as useful as I first thought.

Salsa verde also from Taste. Now I suspect that salsa verde is a bit of a moveable feast - at least in the homes of the peasants who presumably first made it. I suspect there are major differences between the Mexican kind and the European - mostly Italian - kind. And you could make one up for yourself. A herby sauce, bulked out with the usual suspects - olive oil, garlic, lemon, chilli, anchovy, chilli ...

Green bean and tuna salad with basil dressing from the Epicurious website. Now I'm not one for salads but this one did look very tempting. I suppose it's just a variation on a bean salad, even a salad niçoise without the tomatoes. The basil is in the dressing but it does use quite a lot. Maybe I could use the dressing for a rice and zucchini based salad rather than the beans? And look there re those baby cos or gem lettuce leaves again. They're in everything these days.

My next recipe Grilled sweetcorn with basil butter from Maggie Ruggiero of Epicurious however gave me the idea of preserving my basil by way of a basil butter. In this version the basil was mixed with thyme but I reckon you could make up your own mix - from just basil to additions such as garlic, lemon juice, olives ... Indeed that's what I'm going to try shortly. The corn in the recipe is just demonstrating one of the ways of using the butter. You can use it in all sorts of other ways as well. And it's a relatively quick and easy way to preserve it. People talked about freezing it in water or oil but there also seemed to be an equal number of people who weren't that impressed by freezing. I suppose I could try. In oil sounds a better option to me. I think somebody described basil frozen in water as droopy and soggy.

And speaking of preserving you can also make Basil Oil, although the recipe shown here from RouxBe was a bit of a faff. I might give it a go tomorrow however, because I'm guessing you could use basil slightly past its best for this.

And here I shall divert briefly, because I found the recipe on Reddit where a small group of people were discussing our problem. Reddit can be really quite interesting. I imagine that most of the respondents are young, so it's an interesting glimpse into their lives. Here are some of the comments I thought worthy of a mild bit of interest beginning with one about that oil, which suggested a way of making use of the basil solids that would otherwise be thrown out:

"It's amazing on so many things. As a finisher for: pizza, risotto, fish, mix with mayo for a nice basil mayo. Will last a few weeks in the fridge. I like to using the discarded pulp to mix in with breadcrumbs, lemon zest, tiny bit of honey, and some chopped pistachios as a breadcrumb topping for fish. (You can add some of the oil itself to this mix too.)/114631/Reddit

Then there's this one which adds something to the concepts of freezing and of oil:

"My favorite is to stick a ton of leaves (never added stems) in my cuisinart or blender and add just enough oil to bring it together. Then I stick it in ziplock baggies and flatten the air out. When I need some, I just reach in and break off a piece. Tastes very fresh and takes up very little room." susanw/Food52

Back to Reddit and this writer offers a more generic kind of sauce or marinade. The writer suggests with lamb, but it could be anything, and you could add anything you like I guess.

"I like to take a bunch of basil and blend it up with onions and garlic and some spices and pour that over ground lamb as it finishes cooking in the pan. Serve with tzatziki and lettuce leaves and you will be very happy" floatarounds/Reddit

Almost last is this which I never would have thought of, and which is a bit out there. Good for using them when they really are going past their use by date, although it was from Lifehacker rather than Reddit:

"...freshen your car by putting some fresh basil leaves on a piece of newspaper and just letting it dry itself out in the back of your car. The windows make it a natural greenhouse, so as the basil dries, the delicious smell will spread through your vehicle." Lifehacker

Or simplest of all: "dry a bunch of it so you can use it all winter that way./Briank3387/Reddit although whether you approve of dried basil or not probably depends on whether you are a food snob - like Nigel Slater - yes he is a bit - or not.

Before we leave preserving - there is jam - specifically Strawberry basil jam from Julie O'Neil on the Taste of Home website, although I saw others suggest plums and basil, and also raspberries. Strawberries, incidentally seemed to turn up a lot in conjunction with basil - in drinks - there were a lot of cocktail suggestions - ice cream, cakes, slices and so on. And since I've mentioned ice cream - there were a lot of ice cream recipes ranging from simple basil and vanilla to much more complicated ones, such as Mr. and Mrs. Miscellaneous base chip ice cream

from the Epicurious website.

I'll conclude with three random recipes just because it's easier to fit in the pictures that way. The first one is back to the gourmets - specifically Phoebe Wood of delicious. who offers a very fashionable Charred broccoli with basil green goddess dressing and here I should perhaps mention that lots of people suggested adding basil to mayonnaise, or creamy sauces for pasta. And yes, the green goddess dressing cropped up a few times. Then there was the gloriously simple Basil shrimp from Gail Laulette on the All Recipes website. Maybe if we ever have a barbecue I could do this. After all David doesn't have to eat them. I could cook something else for him. And finally a recipe which would make use of my zucchini, although it's not really soup weather - well not today anyway -

Creamy zucchini-basil soup from Amy Myers of Epicurious.

As I have mentioned here and there the vast majority of the offerings that I found did not use enough basil for my purposes and a huge number of them were Italian based. Well as Nigel Slater says:

"Basil is the tomato herb, the mozzarella herb, the one that takes you to the Med in a haze of pepper, clove and cinnamon. It is the herb whose smell is most spice-like."

He also has a word of warning about its use:

"Basil loves warmth but hates to be cooked for more than a few minutes. You can sneak it into roasting peppers or tomatoes, but it needs to be covered in oil if it is to keep any flavour. Even then it might lose its top notes. In other words, there is no point in putting it on a pizza."

Now there's a potentially controversial statement. However, he did have one other way of preserving your basil - if it's the kind that comes in a pot or a ball of soil that is:

"I sometimes rescue growing supermarket basil plants, repotting them in garden soil at home and putting them out on the step to take their chances in real soil in real daylight. Some collapse into a dead faint at exposure to the real world, but most relish the good earth and the scorching sunshine and soon become tough little plants of heady, peppery leaves. A world away from their old pampered selves."

No good from my basil today though.

My last thought was risotto with my leftover rice - well not real risotto of course, because the rice is already cooked, but I looked, and yes it can be done. Just don't call it risotto. And here I came across one final Reddit remark which was a world away from The Guardian and its gurus, but enlightening just the same. The real world perhaps.

"I never use arborio rice for risotto, any short grain rice will do. Don't let Italians tell you to use only ingredients imported from a random tiny peninsula." Reddit


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