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The Telegram
  • Jennifer Mastroianni: Basil brightens many dishes

  • No preservation method duplicates basil in its fresh form, but one is better than others: Freezing basil in pesto. If you’ve never had it, pesto is delicious, coarse basil sauce.

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  • A sad, sad day approaches. I’m talking about the inevitable first killer frost of fall, that vicious act of Mother Nature that annihilates our precious summer herbs.
    I’ll miss my basil most of all. Grass-green and distinctly aromatic, basil brightens many a dish.
    Cooks have tried for eons to preserve the herb’s unique flavor in oils, vinegars and jellies, only to be disappointed. And unlike other herbs such as sage, marjoram and thyme, basil does not retain its characteristic flavor when dried.
    No preservation method duplicates basil in its fresh form, but one is better than others: Freezing basil in pesto. If you’ve never had it, pesto is delicious, coarse basil sauce.
    I gleaned several plants this past weekend to make what I call my “Christmas Pesto.” For this recipe, no ordinary olive oil, cheese and nuts will do. I use the finest oil, an excellent Parmigiano Reggiano and European pine nuts for a pesto befitting a holiday meal. It’s a special treat to enjoy the homegrown flavors of summer in the dead of winter, and one worth sharing with guests on Christmas Eve.
    I’ve checked that job off my harvest to-do list, but I still have plenty of basil. And then, while looking for recipes to deplete my bounty — viola! — I happened upon another preservation method: Salt.
    In the days before refrigeration, preserving in salt was common. But I’ve never heard of preserving herbs in salt. It’s definitely worth a try.
    The recipe I found says to simply add 1⁄4 inch of salt into the bottom of a Mason jar. Add a layer of clean, dry basil leaves. Repeat until the jar is full. Seal the jar with a lid and store in the fridge. Supposedly, the basil will last up to nine months. Can’t wait to see if it works.
    Meanwhile, before the frost hits, I’ll be adding basil to all sorts of recipes, such as soups, panini sandwiches and even mashed potatoes. And I’ll be trying two tasty recipes I found, one for a basil vinaigrette and one for tomato basil bread, said to be a copycat of the tasty version at Panera Bread.
    Basil Pesto
    2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
    1⁄2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano
    1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    1⁄3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
    3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    Combine the basil with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add garlic, pulse a few times more.
    Page 2 of 2 - Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Use this as a basic guide. You may want or need to add a tad more oil or cheese depending on how thick you like it. Makes 1 cup. Serve with pasta, over baked potatoes, drop a dollop in soups, or spread over toasted baguette slices.
    Shallot and Basil Vinaigrette
    1 large shallot, minced
    1⁄2 cup packed basil leaves, chopped
    1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Taste for salt, pepper, oil and vinegar. Add more oil and vinegar if you prefer a thinner consistency. Store in refrigerator. Remove about 15 to 20 minutes prior to tossing on salad. Also nice on grilled vegetables and grilled chicken.
    Tomato Basil Bread
    1 (1⁄4 ounce) package active dry yeast
    3⁄4 cup warm water (110 to 115 degrees)
    1⁄4 cup fresh basil, minced
    1⁄4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
    3 tablespoons tomato paste
    1 tablespoon sugar
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    1 teaspoon salt
    1⁄8 to 1⁄4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    2 1⁄2-2 3⁄4 cups bread flour
    Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Stir in basil, Parmesan cheese, tomato paste, sugar, oil, salt, pepper flakes and 2 cups flour. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a stiff dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour.
    Punch dough down; knead for 1 minute. Shape into a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour. With a sharp knife, cut a large “X” in top of loaf. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to a wire rack to cool. Serve fresh or freeze.

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