Summer Herbal Bounty – Basil

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Fresh basil is one of the best parts of summer. It’s a great plant to grow at home because it is low maintenance and from July to September there is always abundance. Basil is refreshing and remarkably versatile. It can liven up a pasta sauce or salad, even a cocktail or dessert. There’s pretty much nothing that that you can’t pair with basil.

There are more than 60 types of basil to choose from, but typically we use just a few varieties — the sweet Italian kind, known as Sweet Genovese; Thai basil, most often used in Asian cuisine; and Purple Opal basil, a fun addition to cocktails.

To get the strongest basil flavor, add fresh leaves in at the end of your cooking (this may vary with the recipe). However you use it, don’t be shy. Experiment with adding basil to recipes you might not think to use it in. You may be pleasantly surprised.

Easiest Caprese Salad

1 pkg. mozzarella (small rounds)
1 pkg. grape tomatoes or summer fresh whole ones
15-20 leaves of fresh basil (chopped)
Olive oil
Salt & pepper

Slice or wedge tomatoes. Rinse and chop basil. Combine mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and olive. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Basil Vinaigrette

1 small garlic clove

1 cup packed basil leaves, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor, pulse the garlic until chopped. Add the basil and pulse until finely chopped. Add the oil, vinegar and crushed red pepper and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Great with tomato salad, pasta salad, grilled fish, and chicken.

Basic Pesto

3 cups herbs such as basil, cilantro, parsley, chives, etc., rinsed

1/4 cup nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pine nuts

2 cloves garlic

1 tsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (I juiced half a lemon)

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup grated dry salty cheese such as Pecorino or Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano

Processed the basil (or other herb), nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper until almost smooth, then slowly streamed in the olive oil with the food processor on. Lastly, stir in the Parmesan cheese. To prevent discoloration when storing pesto, it is best to put a thin layer of olive oil over the pesto.

Basil and Peach Pork Chops

2 bone-in rib or center-cut chops (4 to 6 ounces each)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoon olive oil

3 peaches, pits removed, cut into 1/4-inch slices

2 teaspoons zest and 2 tablespoons fresh juice from 1 lemon

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch of dried red chili flakes

2 cups fresh raw baby spinach

¼ cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon butter

Season the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until lightly smoking. Add the pork chops and cook until first side is nicely browned, 4 to 6 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until the internal temperature registers 145°F on an instant read thermometer, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a plate and tent with foil. Do not wipe out skillet.

Lower heat to medium low and add the peaches, lemon zest, sugar, salt, and dried chili flakes. Stir gently until the peaches begin to soften but don’t lose their shape, 2 to 3 minutes.

Divide the spinach between two plates and put the pork chops on top. Pour any juices from the plate back into the skillet and add butter and lemon juice. Cook, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and swirling pan until butter is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in half of basil. Divide the peaches between the two plates and then pour the pan juices on top and sprinkle with remaining basil. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

Garlic Basil Chicken with Tomatoes

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (6 to 8 ounces each)

1 bunch fresh basil

Extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you like things

3 cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a large knife or minced

2 cups tomatoes, cut to rough 1-inch chunks (leave cherry tomatoes whole)

1/4 cup torn fresh mozzarella cheese

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

To Prepare Chicken

Remove basil leaves from stalks and set the stalks aside. Roughly chop the basil leaves so that you have about 1/4 cup. Whisk 2 tablespoons of olive oil, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper together until the salt has dissolved. Stir in the garlic and basil. Refrigerate and use within 1 to 2 hours.

Add chicken breasts to the marinade and marinate for 1 hour and up to 2 hours in the refrigerator.

To Complete the Recipe

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly oil one side of a sheet of parchment paper that is large enough to cover the baking dish. (Aluminum foil can also be used).

Add the basil stalks set aside from earlier to a baking dish large enough to fit the chicken breasts arranged in one layer. Add the tomatoes then toss with 1/2 a tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Nestle the chicken breasts down into the tomatoes, allowing the tomatoes to gather up the sides of each chicken breast. Throw the garlic cloves from the marinade into the baking dish then cover the dish with parchment paper. Loosely tuck the parchment paper around the chicken.

Bake until the chicken is opaque all the way through and an internal thermometer reads 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the breast. Check for doneness around 25 minutes then go from there. Most chicken breasts will take 35 to 40 minutes.

Scatter mozzarella on top of each breast then broil on high for about a minute or until the cheese melts. Serve the chicken with the baked tomatoes, juices from the bottom of the baking dish, and more torn basil leaves. Serves 4.