Sep 13, 2016

The King of Herbs

Sweet basil, known as "the king of herbs" is of the mint family, grown for its aromatic leaves. The Greek word "Basil" means "king", however it is likely native to India where it has been cultivated for more than 5.000 years.

It's important to know that there are more than 40 known varieties of basil to choose from. Sweet basil, is widely grown as a kitchen herb, and is my favorite variety. The leaves are generally used fresh to flavor tomato dishes, to make pesto sauce, in salads, sauces, marinades, etc. My favorite way to use fresh basil is in pesto sauce, a green Italian oil-and herb sauce, that I use on pasta (recipe below). In general, it's usually added at the last minute, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor.

To store fresh basil, keep it for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. I never use dried basil because it has very little flavor. The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary application, the white flower buds (see photo above) have a more subtle flavor and they are edible. I like to use them as a garnish in salads.

Basil is very easy to grow from seed. The photo above of sweet basil was taken in my garden. Sweet basil loves the warm sun here in Hawaii, and prefers well-drained soil.

Basil Recipes:

Panzanella - Italian Bread Salad
"Panzanella" - Italian Bread Salad
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There are many variations for this rustic Tuscan Italian bread salad, but basically the bread, tomatoes, and basil are the stars here. You'll need a good, dense loaf of bread that is at least a day old! Other options are to add capers, olives, roasted red bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, anchovies, etc.

5 ripe Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
1 small Japanese cucumber, peeled and diced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 large clove garlic, very finely minced
1 cup fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces with your hands
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 thick slices of stale country style Italian bread, or French baguette, torn into bite-size pieces.

In a bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, garlic and basil. Drizzle with the 1/2 cup olive oil and the 2 tablespoons vinegar and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and toss well. Place half of the bread in a wide, shallow bowl. Spoon half of the tomato mixture over the bread. Layer the remaining bread on top and then the remaining tomato mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or until serving time. Just before serving, toss the salad and adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. At this point the bread should have assorbed the juice from the tomatoes and be all moist. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Butter Broiled A'u with Lime, Tomatoes, Garlic and Basil
I love to broil fish, it always turns out well, and it's very easy to do, A'u is also excellent served raw in poke or simply sliced and served as sashimi with soy sauce and wasabi with a touch of sesame oil for a dipping sauce.

Butter Broiled A'u with Lime, Tomatoes, 
Garlic and Basil
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1/2 cup butter, divided
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-size pieces
8 to 10 large fresh basil leaves, chopped (from Kumu Farms here on Moloka'i)
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper
1 1/2 pounds, 8 A'u steaks
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lime cut into quarters for garnish
fresh basil tips for garnish

Preheat oven to 350˚F. Place the butter and minced garlic in a small skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter is melted, stir in the cut tomatoes, basil, lime juice, salt and pepper. Just before the mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes begin to melt, then turn off the heat.

Arrange the A'u steaks in a baking dish or in a large oven safe skillet that has the olive oil on the bottom. Bake the fish for about 5 minutes in the preheated oven. Turn fish, and continue baking 5 minutes more. Now pour the tomato mixture over the fish and return the baking dish to the oven for 3 minutes more. Remove the fish to serving plates. Spoon the tomato mixture over the fish to serve. Garnish with lime wedges and basil sprigs. Serve with brown rice and Parmesan roasted zucchini.

Makes 4 servings.

Bow-tie Pasta with Basil Pesto Sauce
One of my favorite ways to have pasta.
Bow-tie Pasta with Basil Pesto Sauce
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2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
3 cloves chopped garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts or half of each
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 pound dried bow-tie pasta
1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt

Combine the basil, garlic, and nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the oil and half the cheese and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in large pot over moderately high heat, add water to boil, then add the salt. Add the bow-tie pasta and cook for about 11 minutes or until the pasta is 'al dente', or until pasta is still a bit firm in texture). Add the basil pesto sauce, gently stir and serve with the remaining grated Parmesan cheese on top.

Makes 1 cup of sauce for 6 servings.

Pesto Carrots
This is a wonderful way to use basil pesto sauce. 
Cooked carrots with butter and pesto, how simple is that!

5 carrots, peeled and slice into bite-sized pieces
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons basil pesto sauce (Kumu Farms makes a great pesto sauce, or make your own (see recipe above)

Boil carrots until cooked but not overcooked, about 10 minutes. Drain the water and add the butter while the carrots are still hot. Stir, then add about 3 tablespoons of pesto sauce, or until the carrots are just coated.

Makes 4 servings as a side dish.

Portuguese Molho Cru Sauce
This thick, spicy, Azorean sauce is just what this chef likes as a sauce for fish, chicken, or pork. It's similar to Italian pesto sauce, but with more personality!

3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup green onion, including tops, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon anchovy paste, or two anchovy fillets
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or 1 hot Hawaiian pepper, minced
1 cup fresh basil or parsley leaves, minced
a dash of salt and pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in a blender and pulse into a thick green paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Refrigerate for 2 hours to blend the flavors. Use as a topping for fried, broiled, or grilled fish or shrimp, or on roast chicken or pork.

Makes about 1 cup.