When I was young, a friend of my dad’s would often roar up from Delaware on his bike, blast into our lives for a week, and make everything interesting for a while. Often with a new pretty girlfriend in tow, Redz would soak up a year’s worth of Nova Scotian life, telling ridiculous jokes, making my dad swear more than usual, and cooking. He also had a lot of energy for my sister Meagan and I, referring to us mostly as Rug Rat and Linoleum Lizard, names he had given us as infants. He drew us silly pictures and took us for rides on his motorcycle. Once he answered the phone with his Delaware accent, and the person on the other end thought they had dialed Luigi’s, the pizza place in town. “Do you guys have turkey subs?” the poor sucker asked. “Well, we do”, he said, “only problem is, them turkeys are still runnin’ ’round out back. Ain’t had time to kill ’em today!”
Whether Redz introduced us to pesto or not is of some debate. I know he did, my mom isn’t sure. Anyway, my mom was really into her herb garden at the time, and since basil is the queen of herbs, it was held in high esteem. She would sprinkle shreds of it on a tomato and mozzarella salad, and stir it chopped into green beans stewed with garlic and tomatoes. However we discovered pesto, even as kids, Meagan and I were hooked.
More recently, I’ve been including basil in wraps with baked peanut tofu and as a garnish for Pad Thai. I’m also growing Thai Basil this year, which has a hint of licorice flavour, and Ruben Basil, which is dark purple and makes a shocking pink herb vinegar. Basil is amazing in a grilled pineapple salad, and in my favourite sandwich: Just toast two slices of good bread, rub it with a cut garlic clove and a smear of mayonnaise. Top one with thick slices of tomato and whole basil leaves, then put on the top. Cut in half and devour!
Basil is easily frozen. Just strip off the leaves, put them in a food processor with about 1/4 C. olive oil to each 8 cups basil leaves. Pulse until well chopped, then transfer to small bags and freeze.
Here is a good basic pesto recipe, one you can freeze in small bags for a taste of summer anytime!
8 C. loosely packed Basil
8 Cloves Garlic
½ C. Sunflower seeds
½ teaspoon Salt
1 ½ C. Olive Oil
2 C. Freshly grated Parmesan Cheese (I use Holmestead)
In a food processor, pulse all but the cheese until smooth. Stir in the cheese by hand. Package into small freezer bags and freeze. Pesto can also be stored in the fridge for a week or two. Make sure to tamp down the solids so there is a good layer of oil on top.
Green Beans with Tomato and Basil
1 T. Olive Oil
1 Onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large Tomatoes, chopped (or half a 28 oz can)
1 lb. Green Beans, steamed or boiled until just tender
1/4 to 1/2 C. chopped Basil
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened and beginning to brown. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until they have broken down into a sauce-like consistency, about 10 minutes. Stir in the beans and basil, along with salt and pepper to taste, and let cook a few more minutes. This dish is great hot or at room temperature.
Vietnamese Pork Burgers
1 lb. Ground Pork (we love Meadowbrook!)
1 t. Salt
1 T. Fish Sauce
1 T. Sugar
1/2 C. chopped Basil
2 cloves minced Garlic
1/2 C. chopped Green Onion, optional
Combine everything in a large bowl. Form into 4 patties, or for cute mini burgers, form into 12 patties. Grill or panfry until no longer pink in the centre. Serve with Sweet Chili Sauce and sprigs of Cilantro, Red Onion slices, Mayonnaise and whatever else suits your fancy!