Basil bound to bring smile

Published 6:47 pm Friday, August 31, 2012

The summer basil is coming to an end. I really hate to see it go since it is one of my favorite herbs. I have found some ways to use it in different dishes but perhaps the best way is to make it into a pesto and serve it over your pasta, broccoli, fennel, potatoes or peas.

I was looking at some old cookbooks the other day and ran across The Splendid Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper, from 1992. It is such a good cookbook on Italy that I could not resist trying some of her pesto recipes. The combination of pesto and balsamic vinegar in this green bean recipe is so good. I’ve been adding a dash of the balsamic vinegar to other vegetables and it just adds a special flavor at the end of cooking.

From The Splendid Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper:


Green Beans with Balsamic Pesto

Serves 6-8

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic

1 1/3 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves

¾ cup (3 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 ½ pounds fresh green beans, trimmed

4 to 5 tablespoons commercial balsamic vinegar blended with ½ teaspoon dark brown sugar

Working ahead: The flavors of this dish are best when it is served right after the pesto and beans are combined or when it is left at room temperature no more than four to five hours before serving. The pesto can be prepared several hours before the beans are cooked. Cover and keep at room temperature until ready to toss with the beans. The finished dish can be served at room temperature, but do not toss basil pesto with freshly cooked hot beans, let them cool down.

Making the pesto: Combine the olive oil and garlic in a blender or a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Blend until almost smooth. Add the basil and Parmigiano-Reggiano, and blend until the basil is finely chopped but not puréed. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Cooking the beans: Pour about 2 inches of water into a 6-quart pot. Place a collapsible steamer in the pot, cover, and bring the water to a fierce boil. Pile the beans in the steamer, cover the pot, and steam six (6) minutes, or until tender crisp.

Finishing the dish: Turn the beans into a shallow serving bowl. Add the pesto to the beans, stirring in the vinegar and sugar mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat the beans. Taste for seasoning, and serve hot or at room temperature.

This recipe of basil with potatoes would be especially good with lemon chicken or some sausages.


Basil and Onion

Mashed Potatoes

Serves 8

5 pounds, small red-skinned potatoes

1 to 1 ½ cups milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large onions, minced

½ cup minced Italian parsley

2 large cloves garlic, minced

½ cup minced fresh basil leaves

½ cup water Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

1 cup (4 ounces) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Working ahead: The potatoes can be prepared the day before serving, up to the point of baking the casserole. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before the final baking.

Cooking the potatoes: Scrub the potatoes and place them in a 6-quart pot with cold water to cover. Put the lid in place, and set the pot over high heat. Bring the water to a lively bubble. Adjust the heat so the water does not boil over, and keep the pot partially covered. Cook the potatoes 15 to 20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Mean-while pour 1 cup milk, the butter, and1 tablespoon of the oil into a large bowl.

Sautéing the flavorings: While the potatoes are cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add the onions and all but 2 tablespoons of the parsley. Turn the heat to medium-low and cover. Cook 15 minutes or until the onions are soft and clear. Stir occasionally.

Uncover and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, eight (8) minutes, or until the onions are golden brown. Then stir in the garlic and basil, and cook another minute. Add the water and scrape up any brown bits in the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Turn into the large bowl.

Mashing the potatoes: When the potatoes are tender, drain and peel them. Pass the hot potatoes through the coarse blade of a food mill and set over the large bowl, or mash them in the bowl with a potato masher. Blend the mashed potatoes with the ingredients at the bottom of the bowl. Season to taste. If the potatoes seem dry, add more milk. The mixture should be like very thick whipped cream, but not so loose that it will not hold a high mound on a spoon. Lightly oil a shallow 2 ½ quart baking dish. Spread half the potato mixture over the bottom of the dish. Top with half of the cheese, and then spread the remaining potatoes over the cheese. Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Baking and serving: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly cover the potatoes with aluminum foil, and bake 30 minutes, or until hot to the center. Just before serving, sprinkle with the reserved 2 tablespoons parsley. Serve hot.