Key Ingredient: Basil

Why Basil?

Although Basil’s peak season doesn’t hit until July, I’m starting to see it floating around the Union Square green market. So when I decided to host Shabbat last Friday and heard that ramps were out of season, I knew that it was the perfect time to grab some basil!

Basil is the ultimate summer herb. Its rich flavor allows for endless food combinations  and makes the perfect addition to fresh fish, seasonal tomato & mozzarella salads, textured vinaigrettes, or flirty cocktails! And after deciding on making salmon for my Shavuot Shabbat, I knew a homemade pesto and some bucatini would be the perfect complement!

The How’s & Why’s of Using Basil

Basil is traditionally used fresh in cooked recipes. It is usually added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. I have also been told that basil should be torn rather than cut. When basil is cut, its edges turn black which is why pesto was previously made in a mortar and pestle. But to save time,¬† I like to make my basil with an immersion blender. In my experience, the pesto darkens in color over time so I’d recommend using your fresh pesto within three days or freezing it.

Tips on Storing Fresh Basil

Fresh Basil can be kept 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 also like to make a big batch of pesto and then freeze individual cubes in my ice tray so that I can use them later for individual portions. After the cubes are frozen, they should be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored in a freezer bag (in the freezer) for up to three months.

The Six Ingredients Behind Pesto

Pesto is traditionally made with 6 (easily substitutable) ingredients:

  1. Basil (Spinach, Arugula)
  2. Pine Nuts (Walnuts, Almonds, Macadamia Nuts)
  3. Olive Oil (Walnut Oil, Garlic Oil, Chicken Broth)
  4. Grated Parmesan Cheese (Pecorino Romano, Asiago)
  5. Garlic (Green Onion, Ramps, Shallots)
  6. Salt

Optional Ingredients: Lemon, Chili Pepper, Roasted Red Pepper

But for convenience and variety, I like to change it up a bit so this time I decided to use walnuts in place of pine nuts. Most bakers usually have walnuts laying around their kitchens and they also tend to be less expensive than pine nuts. So feel free to use any of the substitutions listed above to create your own fun variation or you can just follow my recipe below.

Basil-Walnut Pesto Recipe

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups packed fresh basil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/3 cup chicken broth
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt, or more to taste

PREPARATIONS

  1. Pull basil leaves from stems, wash and dry.Pesto Ingredients
  2. Place the dried leaves and remaining ingredients into bowl and blend with immersion blender until the mixture is completely blended and all of the ingredients have been broken down.
  3. Serve as a vinaigrette, sauce, or topping on a beautifully seared piece of salmon!Basil Walnut Pesto
Seared Salmon with Basil Walnut Pesto

Pre-Thanksgiving Festivities

I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving mostly makes me think of eating. And I don’t just mean eating anything out of the ordinary, but delicious seasonal dishes that, for me, begin with the Union Square Green Market. The Green Market is where my dream of endless Butternut Squashes, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, and Apples become a reality!

On a leisurely walk through Saturday’s Green Market, I couldn’t help admiring all of the incredibly fresh winter fruits and vegetables. Although my purpose at the Green Market was to pick up the infamous $1 3-Pound bag of apples for an apple pie, I couldn’t help picking up a few other seasonal ingredients on the way. The Green Market is mixed in terms of pricing, but you always leave reassured that you’ve purchased the freshest produce of the season.

The Largest Broccoli I've Ever Seen!

The Largest Broccoli I've Ever Seen!

Apples

Migliorelli Apples

$1 3-Pound Bag of Apples

$1 3-Pound Bag of Apples

Brussel Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts

BottleRocketAfter leaving the market I stopped off at a nearby wine shop called BottleRocket. I’d read in a recent Eats.com newsletter that BottleRocket was hosting a complimentary Pre-Thanksgiving Wine and Food Pairing with City Bakery. Although BottleRocket’s interior was slightly small, they made the most of their space by setting up different food and wine stations throughout the store. Each guest was greeted with a taste of Champagne which was followed by a taste of City Bakery’s Thankgiving Menu which featured turkey,stuffing, two different kinds of potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and some gingerbread cookies for dessert. My favorite dishes on the menu were the Multigrain Bread Stuffing with Mushrooms, Herbs, & Aromatic Vegetables and the Sweet Potatoes with Grilled Pineapple and Toasted Homemade Marshmallows paired with the $9 Sauvignon Blanc (who’s name currently escapes me).

And after a wonderful afternoon of mouthwatering Thanksgiving bites and plentiful sips of wine, I began thinking about my own Pre-Thanksgiving festivities. Thanksgiving is the perfect excuse to get together with friends for a nice home cooked meal. And though it isn’t quite Thanksgiving yet, it’s close enough.

A few friends and I got together last night for a Pre-Thanksgiving dinner with all the traditional fix-ins. And I must admit that I was quite impressed with everyone’s cooking skills. Between the Macaroni & Cheese, the Barbeque Chicken, the Sweet Potatoes, and the Pumpkin Bread you’d think one would have their Thanksgiving fill. But until my Christmas Vacation rolls along, Thanksgiving dishes will be a regular staple which I look forward to sharing with all of you.

The recipes from our Pre-Thanksgiving dinner will be posted throughout the week, so please check back for more information about each dish along with enticing photos.

PRE-THANKSGIVING DINNER MENU

Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Spread

Pre-Thanksgiving Dinner Spread

Appetizers

Main Course

  • Roast Chicken Kosher
  • Barbeque Chicken

Sides

Desserts