Monday, January 17, 2011

Too much basil

It was just one lousy punnet of the stuff I bought, about three bucks' worth of laziness. And now I've got an almighty great glut of basil to deal with. In fact I have another glut on my hands. Who would have thought two tiny cucumber seedlings could pop out a fridge full of cucumbers - well, they can. Anyway, back to the basil. Not only did I have too much, it was starting to be a nuisance. Let me explain.

Here's the trimmings, destined for the kitchen. Gosh they smell nice!

And here's the reason the trimming had to be done. Our resident delicate petal, Acacia cognata (in the foreground), otherwise known as Cousin Itt, is a perfectly healthy foliage plant that has an unfortunate tendency to suddenly cark it. Anything not quite to Itt's liking and it's 'hasta la vista, baby'. Terrible track record, this plant. Prior to the trimming, the basil behind Itt was about a foot or more higher than it is now. Itt now gets all of its morning sunshine back, restoring it to a full day's worth of the stuff, which is one of its precious needs. The others are only occasional watering, lowest possible humidity levels (and the basil was crowding Itt, too), fab soil drainage, and sheer good luck.

As for what to do with the basil, the first part of the answer is easy. Some of it is going into a tomato sauce, where these banana capsicums will also feature, and that tomato sauce is going to go over thin, lightly grilled slices of these delicious-looking purple Lebanese eggplants. The eggplant-tomato sauce combo will then be alternately layered with some spicy, cooked minced lamb, to form a moussaka-ish invention which I will be making up as I go along tonight. I like moussaka, but with all that gooey, heavy bechamel sauce in between each layer it's not right for summer, too heavy. As usual my experiments are done on live human subjects, and so that's what Pam and I are having tonight, along with some steamed greens on the side.

As for the rest of the basil, that's both easy and predictable: pesto. I love pesto, and when I make a batch I then freeze it in tiny little Tupperware containers that each only hold about two tablespoons of the stuff. Pesto freezes easily and keeps for months. Of course I like pesto with pasta, but I prefer the pesto-and-pasta combo in smaller doses, as the 'carb side dish' offering instead of potatoes or rice, in small servings on the side when you're presenting something else, such as chicken or veal.

My thawed pesto dollops are also lovely as a quick and tasty sauce to go with a grilled or pan-fried chicken breast, for a mid-week meal.

My pesto recipe is the one from Stephanie Alexander's 'The Cook's Companion' best-seller book, with the raw garlic toned down. Such vicious stuff, raw garlic. It's like loud metal music. I don't like too much of either.

1 cup well-packed basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
30g pine nuts
1 clove garlic, crushed (Stephanie adds 2 cloves, which is three times as much as 1, as raw garlic behaves exponentially)
salt to taste
60g grated parmesan cheese

Whizz the basil, oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in a blender, till it's a green sludge. Pour and scrape this into a bowl.
Stir in the parmesan cheese, in batches.
This makes a lot, so aim to freeze at least half of it, for later use.
As usual with such simple recipes, the niceness of the ingredients counts for everything. Nicest basil, nicest oil, nicest cheese. I can't afford the nicest oil or cheese - mine's more middle-class, like me. But my basil is the best that money can buy. Three bucks a punnet of seedlings, home-grown the organic way in Aussie sunshine.


Alexa said...

I wish I had your problem! In past years I've learned basil really doesn't like dry summers with 40+ days. This year's been a lot better since Melbourne's had this tropical stormy humid weather.

Have you tried blanching the garlic before using it? Pop peeled cloves in boiling water for about 30 seconds to a minute, rinse in cold water, and it really takes the stinging edge off.

veggiegobbler said...

Oh you lucky thing. You can never have too much basil. I can't wait for mine to grow a bit more. I'm doing well this year with it.

Bangchik said...

We have too little basil right now... it doesn't like the new garden maybe.

Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

Thanks Jamie (and happy new year). I was feeling a bit like a failure with my Acacia Cognatas. I started off with 4 and have none left! I love the look of them, especially at their very best as a huge lime green alien-looking mound. Now I can see why they have died - surrounded by veggies (high water needs), crowded, only getting half a day sun, humidity...
Your basil looks wonderful....and I have a glut of cucumbers too.

Seana Smith said...

Oh no such thing as too much basil. I learned to make pesto in Genova when I worked there as an au pair about a billion years ago, in a real mortar and pestle. Yum!

Angels have Red Hair said...

One year we planted roma tomato plants ... that's plants in plural. Not being experienced gardeners we didn't know what to expect, and thought it would be safer to plant a few plants.
Suffice to say we had SO MANY tomatoes ... there was no way physically known to man that we could eat them all. And every year up they pop again ... an endless supply it would seem.

Alyson Hill said...

Bloody bragger ;) here in our village outside of Canberra, we have a shortened season between the frosts that end after Melbourne cup day and start round Easter. The only gluts we get are cherry tomatoes and zukes! They sit in the freezer until soup time....

A Farmer's Wife said...

Your garden in the header photo looks amazing. I am about to spend the weekend planting a stack of stuff in mine..... Makes me tired just thinking about it!

I regularly get way too much basil. Have a similar pesto recipe but even more middle class as it uses cashews.

Here if you want to take a little look.

allison tait said...

I'm laughing! You know I can relate! Thanks for Rewinding!

Anonymous said...

My husband is a keen veggie gardener who hasn't yet learned that less is more and he over-plants everything, so one month I'm dealing with too many pumpkins and the next month it's too many tomatoes and on it goes. At least our neighbours love the gift of our surplus veggies!

Anonymous said...

I can't wait to start a herb and veggie garden, it might be a pain when it grows too well but the way you described making the sauce really makes it sound worth it! (popping over from the rewind)

Jamie said...

Hello Al Tati's rewinders, welcome one and all!
Thanks for dropping by and leaving your comments. I can see that I am not alone in having gluts of summer basil (and cherry tomatoes, they glut readily too).