Yesterday in our organic food box (spot the Guardianista cliche, eh?) we got a generous 200g bag of new season basil, with an overwhelming aromatic peppery smell. The taste was even better, the perfect antidote to eating tasteless, mushy basil in bog-standard sarnies. As for sub-standard Italian restaurants, why do they think basil is a garnish, not an ingredient? One leaf, if you're lucky...
When confronted with fresh basil, there's surely nothing better than a simple insalata caprese, with the sweetest vine-ripe cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. It's hard not to lapse into dreamy-eyed reminiscences about meals in the sunshine in Italy at this point, but I think we'll all be happier if I don't.
Last night, however, we decided to use our basil mountain to make some fresh pesto. I'm not a big fan of parmesan so we made it without, but of course it would normally be included. The result, cheeseless though it was, was absolutely delicious. I'm looking forward to eating some at the weekend on fresh bread. Tomatoes might get a look in, but this stuff is worth eating on the rocks.
Makes enough for four as part of a main dish, or just a jar to put in the fridge.
85 grams of basil
4 cloves of garlic
Put in food processor, blend to a paste
Add lots of salt
A little bit of pepper
60g of pine kernels
100-150ml of extra virgin olive
and, if you like, 50g of parmesan
Blend again. Eat.
Pesto and broad bean pasta
Here's an easy recipe we made last night. (I'm using the royal we, here - my sole contribution to this dish was podding the broad beans and making a gin and tonic with basil in it. It works, honestly.)
Our broad beans were so fresh and tender they didn't need any cooking, but you'd probably need to for the tougher kind, particularly later in the summer.
To serve four
200g Pasta (penne, tagliatelle, whatever you fancy)
Serving of basil pesto (see above)
200g of podded broad beans
Two 125g balls of mozzarella
Cook the pasta, drain and add the pesto and stir through. Add the broad beans, stir in chunks of mozzarella until they start to melt. Season with salt and pepper. Eat.
Basil and strawberries
Basil and strawberries also make a great combination. Why should mint be the only herb that gets to play around with dessert? The peppery basil and sweet strawberries work together in the same way that balsamic vinegar and strawberries do - the contrast bringing out the flavours of the sweet fruit.
I'd actually like to experiment with herbs more - can anyone offer any more unexpected combinations? I've always thought orange and tarragon go together wonderfully (again, aniseedy bitterness and sweet citrus playing off each other) but haven't yet managed to find a way to turn this into a dessert.