Basil — Green is In

BasilFresh basil makes the summer rounds in pizzerias

The heat is on as we are smack dab in the middle of summer. Although pizza sales are strong all year, you will notice that customers are looking for some fresher alternatives instead of or to accompany your pizza. Since this is the height of basil growing season, I wanted to share some fresh ideas with you utilizing fresh basil since it’s so plentiful.

Because of its abundance this time of year, basil is generally at its lowest cost, so don’t be afraid to buy a bushel of it. I want to start by showing you a simple pesto recipe because pesto itself can be used in a hundred different ways. Making house-made pesto is a demonstration I’ve done at International Pizza Expo, and every single attendee that was currently purchasing pre-made pesto agreed that they would start making their own once they saw how fast, easy and cost effective it was to make in house. When you factor in that you can always make it better than what’s available as a pre-made pesto to buy, it just becomes a no brainer to stop buying it and start making it.

The reason I say to go ahead and buy a bushel is because pesto freezes amazingly well. If you decide to make your own large batches of pesto, freeze it in the size containers that you would generally use in a week’s time. If you will use a quart in a week then freeze your batch in quart-size containers. If you are just getting started with using pesto and don’t think you’ll use too much, then freezing it in ice cube trays is a great way to get your feet wet. Once they are frozen, pop them out of the tray and store them in a plastic bag and pull out just what you need when you need it.

Pesto makes a great marinade for chicken and pork. It also is great on a pizza by replacing your pizza sauce with a light brushing of pesto on your dough. You can use pesto to toss your pasta in or even add it to your Alfredo sauce to create a creamy pesto for your pasta. Adding pesto to your pasta salad creates a whole new level of excitement with flavor profile and eye appeal.

Simply adding 1½ tablespoons of fresh pesto to a cup of creamy Alfredo creates a new luxurious sauce in about 10 seconds. Offer that as a pasta sauce option. I love to toss a creamy pesto with pasta and freshly roasted chunks of garden veggies. I call that Pasta Primavera.
You can even whip some pesto into some softened butter and make a basil compound butter that you can melt over your steak coming off the grill.

Homemade Pesto

1 pound of fresh basil (remove the large stems)
3 cups of olive oil or olive oil blend
8 cloves of fresh garlic cloves
2 tablespoons salt
1½ cups Parmesan cheese

Blend it all in a blender on high speed for less than a minute and your pesto is done.
Traditionally pesto has pine nuts, so if you want to add them, do it after the pesto has been blended.

Now, let’s play around with a few recipes and see how basil can be the star of your menu.

basil mojitoMojito Basilica

2 fresh mint sprigs, chopped
2 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon agave nectar
2 tablespoons Fresh lime juice
1½ ounces (3 tablespoons) light rum
Ice
Chilled soda water

In a tall glass with back of a spoon crush mint and basil with agave and lime juice then stir in rum. Add ice cubes and top off drink with club soda or seltzer water.  Stir drink well and garnish with mint, basil, and lime.

Pizza Margherita

12-ounce dough ball
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3-4 large basil leaves, cut into strips
2  ripe plum tomatoes, cut thinly
6 ounces fresh mozzarella cut into slices
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Stretch your dough to 12 inches and brush the dough with the olive oil and chopped garlic. Place slices of mozzarella or pinch the cheese and distribute it evenly. Arrange the sliced tomatoes and fresh basil.

Bake as you would any other pizza.

Grind a little black pepper and sea salt and serve.

Pesto Pasta Salad

1 pound rotini pasta
12 ounces grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 cup sliced black olives
6 ounces diced fresh mozzarella
10 ounces blanched broccoli florets
1 cup of your Italian dressing
¾ cup of fresh pesto

Cook, drain and cool your pasta (any pasta will do).
Toss all the ingredients together and you have a beautiful and tasty salad.
Serving over a bed of greens and offering grilled chicken or shrimp turns this into a great entrée salad!

capellini pomodoro basilCapellini Pomodoro

½ cup olive oil
1 cup diced onions
5 cloves chopped garlic
10 plum tomatoes
¼ cup fresh pesto
2 cups vegetable broth
Salt and pepper to taste
4 leaves of fresh basil sliced thinly
Shaved Parmesan

Sauté onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent. Add tomatoes, pesto and broth and simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. This makes a fantastic vegetarian based sauce to toss with any pasta dish. Capellini is in the angel hair category.

Toss this hot sauce with the pasta until it is well coated and serve it in a pasta bowl. Garnish with the fresh basil and shaved Parmesan. Grilled, steak, pork tenderloin, chicken or shrimp would make an excellent add-on!

As you can see, basil is super versatile. Drink, marinate, grill, sauté, toss and bake with fresh basil this summer and I promise you’ll be seeing green!

Jeffrey Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.