Monday, October 12, 2009

MrMartha's "NOT QUITE Pesto" Basil Cubes

Are you staring at Basil plants in the garden or potted on your deck -- valiantly trying to hold fast into fall, but starting to look tattered and shopworn?
It's so sad when the vigorous herbs of summer start to whither and fade, looking a bit like Aunt Sally's rather unfortunate slipcovers.
There is still time to sock away all that wonderful pungent flavor of summer -- into little cubes of dynamite that will wake up a spaghetti sauce, soup, or stew.....all winter long.

Not to mention having at hand an almost instant hors d'oeuvre option clear through spring.

If you have the Basil, MrMartha has three words for you.....
oil, Ice tray, freezer.
Well, okay, that's four words.

If you havent grown any Basil this summer, plan for next year, and instead buy a big bag of Basil Leaves at the grocery store or vegetable market (or preferably at a restaurant provisioner that is open to the public).

This is not true Pesto, as it does not include Pine Nuts or Parmesan Cheese. These Basil Cubes are just that....cubes of processed Basil with just enough oil to hold them together and stop oxidation of the leaves. It's SO SIMPLE.....takes no time, and the rewards of encapsulating summer flavor will burst forth in your mouth throughout the dark months.

Read More for the super simple instructions with photos, and a couple of additional easy ideas...

Here's what you do.....

Fill the container of your Food Processor with clean, trimmed Basil Leaves and soft stems (remove the woody, tough stems and leaf bases)
Approximately 8 cups of leaves for a batch in MrMartha's long suffering Cuisinart.

Drizzle about half a cup of decent vegetable oil over the leaves as you fill the work bowl. (doesn't have to be olive oil...but it does bring a lot to the party.)

Turn on the machine, and process while adding up to an additional cup of oil, to make a fairly smooth and glistening paste.

MrMartha prefers just enough oil to allow the Basil leaves to process finely, and hold together. You can adjust the mixture to your own preference by adding more oil, or adding more Basil leaves.....

Transfer the paste in spoonfuls to an Ice Cube Tray, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer till solid. Remove the solid cubes and place into a zipper freezer bag, store in the Freezer for up to about 6 months (After time, the may get some frost on the surface and look a bit dehydrated, but they are still good to go, just brush off the ice crystals with a paper towel.

You can also keep a jar if this mixture in the fridge for several weeks and use it at will. It will keep perfectly, just even the contents after each use, and float a thin layer of oil on top before closing the jar.

You can certainly make traditional Pesto instead, and freeze into cubes the same way. MrMartha is not a big fan of Pine Nuts, and actually prefers substituting toasted and ground Walnuts in his Pesto.

These little magic Basil bullets are incredible stirred into a red pasta sauce, tossed with pasta and some extra butter, and added to just about any soup, stew, or pot roast.

For a delicious easy nibble with crackers or baguette:

Thaw 3 frozen basil cubes in a small cup, pour or spoon off any liquid that accumulates during thawing.
Use a rotary mixer or food processor to combine the thawed cubes with a block of softened cream cheese. All your guests will be thrilled at something that is much better than Alouette or Rondele products, at a quarter of the cost..... while you smile to yourself with cleverness and frugality.