6
Jul 04

So I’d bought basil.

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So I’d bought basil.

More to the point: for two dollars, I bought a grocery sack full of fresh basil; by comparison, a small plastic pack of basil with enough for pesto for two, or a dish of Thai basil chicken, costs between $1.50 and $4.00 at the grocery store, depending on discounts and whether it still has the roots on. This was easily ten times as much.

And it was becoming less fresh. I woke up with a migraine today that required medication, which meant getting any work done was probably out of the question. So it was a good day to deal with the basil, especially since I intended to buy more this coming Saturday, whether I’d found anything to do with the first batch or not. I mean, it’s really fresh! And that price! It’s hardly the basil’s fault if I don’t know what to do with it.

(1) The basil sandwiches I mentioned.

(2) Pesto. Boy, it takes a lot of basil to make pesto. No, I didn’t use a mortar and pestle. I know. I know. But I didn’t. Making it with the stick blender still makes better pesto than I’ve had in half the restaurants that offered it when it was The Big Thing (and more than that, now that pesto has become a sort of greenish cream sauce so many places) and all of the grocery stores. The only better pesto I can buy is the jarred olive-green stuff I find inconsistently, from … Roland, I think. I know it when I see it.

Anyway, I didn’t have pine nuts and am more focused on using up odds and ends around the house this week than I am on shopping, so I used pistachios — and semifirm sheep’s milk cheese instead of parmesan, a substitution which made much less difference than I expected. Also used fried garlic, largely because I had fried a bunch of garlic, and realized anything I didn’t hide by putting into the pesto was going to be eaten because my fingers and teeth were acting against my will.

I now have a pesto so dark green it looks like something a pine tree shat out after eating the Emerald City of Oz. I had been worried I might confuse it with the roasted green tomato puree on the same shelf; no such danger.

(3) Basil cream sauce. My girlfriend periodically craves this cream sauce a roommate introduced her to, made simply from basil and scallions steeped in cream and slightly reduced. Made a batch of that, which will probably be part of her lunch all week.

(4) Basil-chile, um, syrup.

See, I read about these nectarine conserves Steingarten made. You make a thick sugar syrupy type deal, and you pop the fruit in there, and the juices thin the sugary candy stuff so that it isn’t candy.

“Well,” I thought. “Basil doesn’t have juice the way nectarines do. Neither do these serrano peppers I’m using up. So really, I better add some water at the same time, if I want basil-chile conserves,” which is what I actually wanted. So I added the water. And the sugar, of course, seized up into a big lump of caramel. And as I tried to cook it down, it got darker and darker, and caramellier and caramellier, without actually not being syrup anymore.

I grew up in a household that made its own maple syrup, boiling down giant tubs of sap all day to make tiny jugs of syrup, and I knew that I was pretty bad at it.

“Cool!” I said, steeping the basil and chiles in the syrup, “Basil-chile syrup! There are like a BILLION uses for that!” I meant the British billion, too, in honor of Freaky Trigger. Somebody’s pancakes are probably going to hate me.

(5) Thai basil chicken. I know it should be made with actual Thai basil when possible, but regular basil is what I had, and I’ve found it’s good with anything but lemon basil. (It probably could be good with lemon basil, it just hasn’t been when I’ve made it.) Leftover roast chicken, a little Thai caramel sauce, a little soy sauce, a lot of sriracha, a lot of scallions, a lot of basil. Probably twice as much basil as I usually use, since I had it to spare.

(6) Basil-infused olive oil, with a whole crapload of basil leaves: enough so that a few hours later, the oil is already very noticeably green. I wonder if there’s a ceiling, a saturation level, a … what’s the chemistry term, equilibrium? is that the one applicable here? … to how much basil oil can seep into olive oil, or if this could actually come out strong enough to need dilution when it’s done.

And finally, I was done with the basil! Except it turned out I had twice put aside the basil for the basil chicken, and only remembered the second time, so I had enough left for another batch.

If I didn’t have work to do tomorrow, to make up for today, I’d try to figure out a way to make Thai basil chicken sauce, for those times when you want to make Thai basil chicken but don’t have fresh basil and can’t get it at the supermarket: chile sauce, basil leaves, and maybe some soy sauce would help keep the leaves not-tasting-like-crap-ish.

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