As summer marches on in the Pajaro Valley, my herb garden is in full swing. Nothing delights me more in my summer garden than fresh herbs, any time I want them. I love to cook with fresh herbs, and I love it when the kitchen is absolutely fragrant with bouquets of oregano, thyme, chives, Italian parsley, French tarragon, sweet basil, Thai basil and rosemary.
This season I have had an especially nice crop of sweet basil, which is probably my favorite herb. Though basil is commonly associated with Italian cooking, basil was originally native to India and other tropical regions of Asia, and there are many different varieties of basil. Basil is a very versatile ingredient, and is delicious in a
variety of courses from appetizers, soups, salads, pastas, desserts to you name
it! And of course since this is also the season when good vine-ripened tomatoes
are available, well – tomatoes and basil are a match made in Heaven!
Fresh basil is easy to grow yourself. It does very well either planted in the ground or in containers. If you don’t have a way to grow fresh basil yourself, our local Farmers Markets (like Watsonville and Aptos/Cabrillo College) have wonderful fresh basil for sale during the growing season. I have seen live basil plants available at
several of our local grocery stores, and of course many markets have fresh cut
basil available pretty much all year round.
I will share a few of my favorite basil recipes below. Before I do, as a foodie and home chef I am always looking for the ideal wine pairing with whatever food I am preparing. As a resident of the Pajaro Valley, I feel fortunate to not have to look beyond my own community for world-class wines. With the recipes below, I will recommend some incredible wines produced by two local wineries that I recently visited. The first is Alfaro Family Vineyards and Winery, located at 420 Hames Road in Corralitos. Their tasting room, which features a picnic area and a gorgeous
view of the vineyards, is open Saturdays 12 to 5. Visit their website at www.alfarowine.com. The other winery is Mica Cellars, located at 18 Hangar Way, Suite C, Watsonville. They are located in the Winemakers Studio, which owner and winemaker Mica Raas shares with two other vintners. Their tasting room is also open Saturdays 12-5. Visit their website at www.micacellars.com. Both of these wineries are well worth a visit.
Now, on to the recipes!
Tomato Basil Bruschetta
6 Roma (plum) tomatoes, seeds and juice removed, chopped
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, cut julienne
3 cloves minced garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 French baguette
Grated Parmesan Cheese
Combine the first seven ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and cover (and feel free to adjust the quantities of any of the ingredients according to your taste). Let the mixture sit at room temperature for an hour or two, stirring occasionally. In the
meantime, slice the French baguette into ½ inch thick rounds and put them in a
single layer on a baking sheet to make your crostinis. Lightly brush them with
olive oil, and place them under the broiler until lightly browned. To serve, spoon some of the tomato mixture on each of the bread rounds, then sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Garnish with a small sprig of basil.
Suggested Wine Pairing:
Alfaro Family Vineyards and Winery, 2011 Zinfandel, Gimelli Vineyard
Roasted Tomato Basil Soup (Adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten)
3 pounds ripe plum or other variety tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) canned Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.
In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade. Taste for seasonings. Garnish with a small sprig of basil. This soup is wonderful served hot or cold.
Suggested Wine Pairing:
Alfaro Family Vineyards and Winery, 2011 Sangiovese, Gimelli Vineyards
Pesto (The classic recipe)
½ cup pine nuts (you may also use walnuts)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 to 4 cups (firmly packed) fresh basil leaves
¼ pound freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the sawdust stuff)
¼ pound freshly grated Romano cheese
1½ to 2 cups extra virgin olive oil
In a food processor, process all of the ingredients with ½ cup olive oil until fine. Slowly add enough of the remaining oil until the mixture is smooth and creamy. To serve, toss pesto with your favorite pasta and sprinkle with more cheese if you like. Pesto is also delicious served as bruschetta spread on rounds of toasted French baguette. I have even used it as a sauce over grilled chicken breasts.
Note: If you are not going to use the pesto right away, omit the cheese and store in the fridge with ½ inch of olive oil poured on top. Add cheese right before serving. Pesto also freezes very well – I make extra and freeze it in ½ cup containers for future use.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Mica
Cellars, 2010 Sauvignon Blanc, Smith Road Vineyard
Basil Lime Sorbet (Adapted from a recipe from allrecipes.com)
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3/4 cup fresh lime juice
20 fresh basil leaves, minced
Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan; allow to boil 1 minute; remove from heat. Combine the syrup, lime juice, and basil in a blender; puree. Pour mixture into an electric ice cream/sorbet maker and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Alternately, if you don’t have an electric ice
cream/sorbet maker, pour blended mixture into a container wide enough so you
have a thin layer of mixture, and completely freeze. Break the frozen mixture
into pieces and place in the blender; blend until smooth. Return to the
container and cover. Store in freezer until ready to serve.