Sweet Basil

June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Dilemma…what do to when your basil starts to over grow?  Make Pesto! is my first response and that’s exactly what I did today.   There are some great uses for pesto at  Pioneer Woman such as Pizza Sauce, Panini Spread or Quiche Filling.

I also love fresh tomato and basil on toasted bread or with chicken.  I thought I’d share some of my favorite ways to use basil.

One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating.  ~Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright, Pavarotti, My Own Story

Basil Pesto

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (see Cook’s Note)
Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add 1/2 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.
If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.
If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Fresh Tomato Basil Bruschetta

  • 8 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 2 tbsp finely minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp finely minced fresh tarragon
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 baguettes, cut in 1/2-inch-thick slices
  • 6 cloves garlic, cut in half
In a bowl, mix all ingredients except bread and garlic cloves. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside, unrefrigerated, 3 hours. Heat oven to 350°F. Toast bread on a baking sheet. Rub cut side of garlic on each slice; top with tomato mixture.

Pesto Halibut Kebabs

  • 1 1/2 pounds halibut, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks $
  • 3 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cooking spray $


  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Place fish and bell pepper in a shallow dish. Drizzle pesto and vinegar over fish mixture; toss to coat. Let fish mixture stand 5 minutes.
  3. Thread fish and pepper alternately onto each of 4 (12-inch) skewers; sprinkle evenly with salt. Place skewers on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray. Broil for 8 minutes or until desired degree of doneness, turning once.
Note:If you can’t find fresh halibut, substitute another mild, firm white fish.

Ratatouille Tart

This savory tart is filled with warm goat cheese and fresh basil, topped with yellow squash, zucchini, red bell peppers, and red onions. Using summer vegetables from your garden you can create a delicious and impressive summer vegetable tart. My husband and I love goat cheese and summer vegetables, so naturally I was drawn to this vegetable tart the moment I saw it. The tangy flavor of the goat cheese accompanied by robust vegetables is delightful. With the abundance of the gorgeous produce that summer brings, a visit to the local farmers market will inspire you to make this stunning veggie tart.

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold, diced
  • 3 tablespoons shortening, cold, diced
  • 3 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 1/2 yellow squash
  • 1 1/2 zucchini
  • 1 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 3/4 cup shredded firm goat cheese
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • dash of salt and pepper

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the flat beater attached, stir together the flour, salt and pepper. Add the butter and shortening and toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas. Add the water and mix on low speed just until the dough pulls together. Shape dough into a flat disk and cover in plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Transfer the dough to a work surface, and roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Transfer dough to a 9-inch tart pan. Press dough into fluted edges, trim excess.
Cover tart shell with aluminium foil and fill with dried beans.
Bake crust in a preheated oven for 25 minutes. Remove beans and continue to bake an additional 5 minutes. Allow tart to cool to room temperature.

Using a mandoline, slice squash, zucchini, and bell pepper into rounds and onion into half-moons, 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle goat cheese and basil over bottom of the tart.
Arrange vegetables around edge of tart shell, repeatedly overlapping two slices each of yellow squash, zucchini, and bell pepper, followed by three slices of onion.
Arrange a smaller circle of vegetable slices inside the first circle. Use squash slices to cover the middle of the tart.
Drizzle tart with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake until tart is golden brown around the edge, about 30 minutes.

Pappa Al Pomodoro

  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
  • 1 cup medium-diced carrots, unpeeled (3 carrots)
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and medium-diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes, crusts removed
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans good Italian plum tomatoes
  • 4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan

For the topping:

  • 3 cups (1-inch) diced ciabatta cubes
  • 2 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, chopped
  • 24 to 30 whole fresh basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons good olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Salt and pepper


Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions, carrots, fennel, and garlic and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, until tender. Add the ciabatta cubes and cook for 5 more minutes. Place the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process just until coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes to the pot along with the chicken stock, red wine, basil, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

For the topping, place the ciabatta cubes, pancetta, and basil on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and toss well. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 25 minutes, until all the ingredients are crisp. The basil leaves will turn dark and crisp, which is perfectly fine. Reheat the soup, if necessary, beat with a wire whisk until the bread is broken up. Stir in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Serve hot sprinkled with the topping and drizzled with additional olive oil.

I grow all kinds of herbs during the warm months outdoors- Cilantro, Italian Flat Leaf Parsley, Chervil, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Lavender and of course, Sweet Basil.  I found some cute ideas at Better Homes and Gardens for indoor herb gardens.

I remember having a window box herb garden when I was single in the city (a gift from my Mom, of course, as she always knows the perfect gift for me).  I grew herbs from seeds, but now I buy the plants. So much easier and more immediate gratification.  I freeze my herbs at the end of the season.  I hate wasting a good thing.  Here’s a how to from Kalyn’s Kitchen.  My roommate, Kate, bought me a book (Christmas 1994) that is still my reference book and inspiration, Little Herb Gardens.  Growing herbs is such a fun thing to do with the kids.  If you’ve ever watched the Barefoot Contessa she is always going out to her garden for fresh herbs (she hates cilantro) and fresh-cut flowers.  How lovely!

And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun, And she forgot the blue above the trees, And she forgot the dells where waters run, And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze; She had no knowledge when the day was done, And the new morn she saw not: but in peace Hung over her sweet Basil evermore, And moistened it with tears unto the core.

-John Keats

A garden of herbs can be grown anywhere, any shape, any size…and cooking with herbs is a healthy way to give food a wonderful and memorable aroma.  Infuse oils, toast with nuts, add to your “green drink” to take the bitterness out of kale and continue to find new ways to enjoy.

Bon Appetit!



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