October 13, 2009

When You Buy 1 Pound of Basil...

I stopped by Berkeley Bowl (an amazing store with just about everything, btw) one day this week with the intention of picking up limes. In addition to the limes, I ended up walking out with acorn squash, whole nutmeg, heirloom tomatoes and a one pound bag of fresh basil. I really only wanted a small bunch of basil for salad dressing and fresh pomodoro sauce making purposes. However, the small bunches were quite wilted and not worth the $1.75. So I ended up buying a huge bag--stocked for restaurant purposes, I'm sure--for $5.

So what does one do with one pound of basil, you ask? Why, one makes pesto and savory tarts, of course! I immediately decided that this excess of fresh basil would give me an excuse to make a ton of basil pesto that I could then freeze and store away for winter. I know that I can very easily purchase fresh basil during the winter, but I have decided to start buying produce that is in season. (Even in California this will most likely mean passing on the fresh basil.) My logic here is that not only will this help decrease the amount of energy and resources put into producing and shipping out-of-season produce, but it will allow me to experience the change in seasons and thereby fully appreciate their respective foods. And now for the basil recipes...

Personal Basil and Tomato Tarts

I started with this recipe for savory basil and tomato tarts. I altered the recipe slightly and they turned out quite tasty.

Start with 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves and 1-2 cloves garlic.

Pulse in a food processor until they are chopped very fine.

Add 1¼ cups all-purpose flour, ½ tsp. kosher salt and 8 tbsp. of unsalted, chilled butter that have been cut into small cubes.

Pulse to combine.

Then add 4-5 tbsp. of ice cold water. I started with 3 tbsp. (left) and then added another 2 tbsp. It still seemed a little dry so I added one more (right), which gave me the perfect consistency.

Using a rubber spatula, turn the dough into the center of a 8x10" piece of plastic wrap.

Fold one edge over so that it covers half of the dough and pat down gently to flatten it out a bit (left). Repeat with the other edge (right). Then, fold in the other edges of the plastic wrap and cup your hands around the dough to form it into an even disk (bottom). Place the dough in the fridge for a few hours. Use this time to prep the filling, or if you have a bunch of basil left over, make pesto! (see below)

Once the dough has hardened in the fridge for a few hours, remove it from the plastic wrap, transfer onto a lightly floured surface (marble works really well) and use a floured rolling pin to flatten it into a 12" circle. Place one of the mini tart pans face down about 1" from the edge of the dough. Using a sharp knife, cut along the the tart pan, about 1" away from the edge.

Lay the dough in the pan (don't forget to insert the removable bottom first!) and use your fingers to gently press the dough along the ridges. Fold over any excess and press firmly until incorporated. Repeat for the remaining (3) tart pans. Cover with foil and place tart pans onto a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes at 425° F. Remove tart shells from the oven and discard foil. If the dough has puffed up or peeled away from the sides--like mine did--firmly press back in place with the back of a spoon. Return tart shells to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and lower the temperature to 375° F.

Fill tart shells with mozzarella cheese, a slice of tomato, a sprinkling of minced garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper. I also added a bit of provolone and feta for some extra flavor.

Return the tarts to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and the crust has browned along the edges, about 15 minutes (mine could have stayed in for a few more minutes, but they still tasted good!). Remove and add a bit of sliced basil. Let cool for a few minutes, then serve. This tart is quite good on its own, or with a salad that has been dressed with an olive oil and lemon vinaigrette.

Tasty, Tasty Pesto

I made the pesto using this recipe. However, I altered it a little to accommodate my pantry and pocketbook: the recipe calls for 1/4 cup each of pine nuts and walnuts. As pine nuts can be quite expensive, I used 1/2 cup of walnuts instead.

And with personal taste in mind, I smashed the garlic cloves and pan fried them in a little olive oil over medium-low heat until they were tender and slightly golden. (Cooking the garlic helps mellow it a bit so that it isn't too overpowering). I also decreased the amount of olive oil by 1/2 cup and added about 2 tablespoons lemon juice to the finished pesto.

I then spooned the pesto into an ice cube tray and stuck it in the freezer. Once they were frozen solid (about 2 hours, just to make sure) I popped them out and put them into a ziplock bag and then back in the freezer. Each cube is the perfect portion for pasta for two.

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