Basil, the 'King of Herbs,' bursts with summer flavor

The “King of Herbs” to culinarians the world over, basil brings a burst of summer flavor to a wide array of vegetable, meat, fish and egg dishes. Aromatic, with both a sweet and savory, slightly peppery taste, basil often appears as an unexpected ingredient in cakes, pies, sorbets – even cookies – like the Lemon-Basil Blueberry Muffin Top Cookies featured here, from Jey at thejeyofcooking.com. In addition, basil is also one of the flavoring ingredients for Chartreuse liqueur.

Common varieties of basil include Sweet Basil, Dark Opal Basil, Lemon Basil, Cinnamon Basil and Thai Basil, with pesto, made via a fusion of sweet basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and cheese, being the most venerable vehicle for fresh basil of all. Karen G. Sorkin’s seductive pesto recipe is brilliant and so well- balanced, that no other seasoning is required when it is used as a sauce for pasta, a dressing for salads or a medium for binding ingredients in which the taste of basil is essential. If you’ve not yet tried swirling a bit of pesto into a bowl of soup, especially those that are tomato-based, now’s the ideal time to indulge.

As an herbal treatment for an expansive list of ailments, including depression, some embrace basil as being an effective remedy. I know I feel good when I eat it, so maybe there’s something to the concept.

If you aren’t growing your own fresh basil and you purchase it from your grocer or farmers’ market, look for leaves that are bright green, with no blemishes or signs of decay. A half-ounce of fresh basil will yield one cup of chopped fresh basil and when cooking with it, add it towards the end of the cooking process to minimize the dissipation of flavor.

Fresh Basil Pesto

Yield: 1¼ cup 

4 to 5 cups fresh sweet basil leaves (with or without the stems), loosely packed

5 to 7 medium garlic cloves, peeled

½ cup good quality olive oil, plus more as needed for desired consistency

½ cup pine nuts, toasted

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Rinse basil leaves, then pat dry. Place the leaves and garlic in the container of a food processor and pulse until very finely minced. With the machine running slowly, stream in the olive oil, processing until fully incorporated. (Stop the machine once to scrape the sides of the bowl.) Add nuts and cheese, processing just long enough to combine. Add salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.

Mini Chicken Pesto Tarts

Yield: 24 tarts

 

1 (14.1-ounce) 2-count package ready-made refrigerated pie crusts

(Pillsbury brand is good.)

Sweet hot mustard

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, poached, cooled and diced

6 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons pesto, plus more to taste

 

Heat the oven to 400 F. Unfold 1 of the pastry crusts onto a lightly floured surface. Cut the pastry with a floured 2½-inch cookie or biscuit cutter. As each round is cut, fit it into a miniature muffin tin. (You should get approximately 12 rounds from each pie crust.) Repeat with the other pie crust. Spread about ½ teaspoon of the mustard onto the bottom of each tart shell, then divide the cheese among the shells.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise with pesto, adding more pesto to taste. Add chicken, mixing well to combine. Spoon and divide the chicken mixture into the shells, but do not overfill.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until tarts are nicely browned. Remove pan to wire rack to cool slightly, then serve.

Pesto Tortellini Salad

Yield: About 18 cookies

 

1½ cups all-purpose flour*

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup sugar

Zest of 2 lemons (1½ tablespoons reserved)

¼ cup fresh basil, finely chopped, (1 tablespoon reserved)

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg

½ teaspoon vanilla

1/3 cup buttermilk

(To make you own buttermilk, pour 1 teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice into a glass measuring cup. Add enough milk to equal 1/3 cup. Stir and allow to sit for about 5 minutes, until the milk begins to curdle. Stir before using.)

1 cup blueberries *

Confectioners’ sugar

Juice of about ½ lemon

 

Heat the oven to 350 F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add sugar, lemon zest and basil to a small food processor and pulse to combine.

Beat the butter, in a stand mixer or a regular bowl using a hand mixer, until creamy. Add the sugar mixture and beat again until fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, then turn the mixer down to low. Slowly add in the flour mixture and buttermilk – alternating in batches – beginning with 1/3 of the flour, then ½ of the buttermilk, 1/3 of the flour, the other half of the buttermilk, then the rest of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Fold in blueberries.*

Using a cookie scoop or a leveled tablespoon, drop dough onto the baking sheet, leaving about 1½ inches between cookies.

Bake each sheet for 12 minutes.* Cool for 2 minutes, then transfer to a cookie rack.

To glaze cookies, whisk together confectioners’ sugar (about ½ cup), lemon juice and reserved lemon zest and basil until you reach your desired consistency and flavor. Drizzle on top of the cookies. Allow to cool completely and the glaze to harden before serving.

*Kitchen Ade note: I prefer King Arthur brand all-purpose flour for baking cookies and measure the flour by dipping the measuring cup into the flour, then leveling with the flat end of a knife. Use fresh blueberries if you have them and take care when folding them into the cookie dough to avoid breaking them down, which will turn your dough blue. My cookies took 18 minutes to bake, and I rotated the pans halfway through the baking period. Glaze cookies while they are still warm.

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