|basil leaves | photo: Paul Goyette|
Yesterday I went to The Arbor Gate nursery and took their Basilmania class. Starring Chef Chris Crowder and Herbal Expert Ann Wheeler it was an information packed event.
It turns out that there are a vast number of different varieties of basil. According to Ann there are 64 native species of basil, however we now have hundreds of varieties because it is a "promiscuous cross polinator." I also learned that pepper basil is the only one which does well in the shade. Three years ago I was given a gift of pepper basil from my friend Paula and it has indeed done well on the shadier west side of my house. Now, due to rather mild winters, it's still going strong. And it does indeed taste like a pepper plant. The one basil which I was really taken with while at the nursery was the lime basil. It is so powerfully fragrant and the leaves so deliciously citrus-y that I kept wanting to nibble at it.
In addition to talking about basil, there were demonstrations of different recipes using it. Recipes mentioned included adding basil to tartelettes, a bellini, a vegetable mousse and more. Here's one recipe created by Chef Chris Crowder from The Arbor Gate website:
Frozen Basil Strawberry Mousse
2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup sugar plus 1/3 cup
3 cups quartered strawberries
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 (1/4-ounce) envelope unflavored gelatin, or 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup sliced strawberries, for garnish
1 tablespoon chiffonade of fresh basil, for garnish
Process the basil and the 1/2 cup sugar in a blender or small food processor and pulse until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Place quartered strawberries in a medium bowl and sprinkle with the basil sugar. Allow the mixture to stand for 20 minutes.
Cut parchment paper into 5 long strips, about 2-inches wide and 12-inches long. Wrap one strip of parchment around the top of a 3-ounce ramekin and secure with string or tape to form a collar that extends above the top of the ramekin. Repeat with the remaining 4 strips and ramekins. Set aside.
Whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form and refrigerate until ready to use.
Combine the lemon juice with 3 tablespoons of water and the gelatin in a small bowl. Allow gelatin to soften, about 5 minutes. Place the macerated berries and sugar in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and press to release the juices; you will need about 1 1/4 cups of the strained juice. Discard the pulp and seeds.
In a small, heavy saucepan, combine 1/4 cup of the strawberry puree and the 1/3 cup sugar over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Just before the mixture begins to boil, remove the syrup from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture until well incorporated and dissolved.
Combine the gelatin mixture with the remaining strawberry puree in a medium bowl. Set the medium bowl inside a large bowl filled with ice water. Stir the strawberry mixture until cooled and syrupy.
Fold the reserved whipped cream into the syrup mixture, gently but thoroughly, until well incorporated and the mixture is one solid color. Fill the prepared molds with the strawberry mousse, cover, and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours.
Allow mousse to stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving. Remove the parchment paper from the molds and garnish with fresh sliced strawberries and basil.
However you pronounce it (and whether you think it's an -erb or a herb) basil is a delicious plant which definitely deserves to be made into more than just pesto.