Food and Drink

   

In Season: Basil

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The end of the season for beautiful, field-grown basil signals the time to extend our enjoyment of this late summer herb by making pesto. Although hydroponic (indoor grown) basil is available all year round, it doesn’t pack the flavour of that grown in full sun.

The only draw back of home-made pesto is that its initial bright greenness fades fairly quickly, shortening its shelf life. The way to combat this loss of colour is to blanch the basil first – that is, to plunge the leaves very briefly into rapidly boiling water, then ‘refresh’ them in a bath of iced water, before squeezing dry and using in the traditional way.

For something different to the usual pasta, try a dollop on some slow-roasted whole Swiss-brown mushrooms and crisp, fried polenta (or even toasted brioche).

Pesto
150g Basil leaves (blanched)
70g Pine nuts (toasted)
3 cloves Garlic (crushed)
1 tablespoon Olive oil
150g Grana Padano parmesan
Process the pine nuts and garlic. With the motor running add the basil, parmesan then oil until you have a fine paste. Put into sterilised jars, tap to level the surface and cover with a layer of olive oil.

Fried Polenta
500ml Water (or vegetable stock)
100g Instant Polenta
1 Egg yolk
25g Butter
30g Grana Padano parmesan
Bring water to the boil and ‘rain’ in the polenta, stirring constantly until thickened. Beat in the yolk and parmesan. Pour onto a flat tray and chill until set, then cut into serving portions and fry in a smear of oil until crisp on both sides.

Mushrooms
Toss in melted butter, season, and gently roast at about 175º.
Pile on top of the fried polenta and top with a dollop of pesto.