A million and one things to do with Basil

Firstly let me start with a disclaimer, I don’t know a million things to do with basil, I used this title for this post because it’s December and my mind is numb and my creative juices have run out of sugar.

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I was asked on Twitter yesterday if I could help with some ideas for ways to use fresh basil. It has been raining quite a bit in Johannesburg these past few weeks (thank Modjadji!) and so those of us who like to grow our own herbs and veggies and other things finally have gardens that are looking pretty decent. The only problem with herbs is once you’ve passed the fun stage of talking to them and nursing them and watching them sprout and grow and make awesome smelling foliage, what on earth does one do with all that greenery? As awesome as rosemary and thyme are, you can’t exactly eat them with your cereal everyday. So herewith a few of my ideas on what to do with fresh basil to make sure you get as much out of it as possible.

Idea 1: Basil Pesto
The most obvious one of them all, make basil pesto. One of those awesome Italian ideas stolen from other cultures, crushing fresh leaves til they’re a paste and adding oil…but I digress. Basil pesto is awesome with pasta, pizza, lamb, certain fish…hell you can put it on anything really. The nice thing with it is the longer it keeps the more the flavours in the pesto infuse. Please use freshly grated parmesan and not the powdered one. NOTE: to toast pine nuts, place them in a dry pan with no oil, place them on a medium heat on the stove and let them brown a little before removing. Let them cool before using them in this recipe

Ingredients
Basil leaves 60g
Toasted pine nuts 40g
Chopped garlic 10g
Coarse sea salt – pinch
Extra virgin olive oil – 4 tablespoons
Freshly grated parmesan –  60g

Method
1. Place the basic, nuts, garlic and salt in a blender or bowl and blend until the leaves are slightly fine
2. Slowly add the oil whilst still blending the mixture and lastly add the parmesan cheese. Mix until combined. Make sure not to over-blend the mixture.
3. If you store the pesto in sterilized jars with a little extra olive oil on top it will keep for a minimum of a week or longer.

Idea 2: Basil, strawberry, chilli and balsamic jam

Ingredients:
950g Fresh strawberries
50g Fresh red chillies
70g Fresh basil
675g Granulated sugar (normal sugar)
100ml water
45ml balsamic vinegar

Method:
– Dissolve the sugar, balsamic and water in a large pot over a gentle heat til 116 degrees Celsius (use a thermometer to gauge this)
– Skim any scum or foam on the top of the sugar as it heats up.
– Add the cleaned and hulled strawberries and the finely chopped chilli and boil for a few minutes til their juice is released. Remove the fruit and chilli pulp from the liquid
– Boil the now fruitless syrup until it gets to 116 degrees celsius again
– Return the fruit pulp to the pot and cook for 5 minutes until the jam becomes a jelly like consistency (at 101 degrees celsius).
– To check if its ready take a teaspoon and pour some on a cold saucer. If the jam sets and doesn’t run, the jam is ready.
– Allow the mixture to cool down before mixing in the finely chopped basil
– Pour into sterilized jars, seal and store.

Idea 3: Basil butter

Buy a few blocks of good quality butter. Allow it to soften at room temperature. Chop up a few handfuls of fresh basil and mix it into the butter. The more basil the better.

Fat works as a preservative. The basil will keep its fresh green colour. Use the butter for cooking, for spreading on sandwiches, to add flavour to your white sauces for pasta.

Idea 4: Basil dust

Basil tends to go off faster than most fresh herbs. Don’t stress if it begins to turn black. Place the basil in the oven at as low a temperature as possible and allow the oven to dry the basil out. This usually takes about 45 minutes. When the basil is dry, store the dried leaves in sealable sandwich bags. Try not to crush it just yet, rather store it as is and crumble it when you need to use it. This keeps more of the flavour and aroma in the leaves. Crush it in a pestle and mortar and sprinkle into your dishes.

There are many other ways to play with basil. Like freezing a few leaves into blocks of ice and using them in your cocktails. Use your imagination and play around.

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