Saturday, 5 July 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging - Examining the Relationship between Strawberries and Basil

It's the weekend! And that means Weekend Herb Blogging, the weekly event founded by Kayln of Kayln's Kitchen. This week it is hosted by Pam from Sidewalk Shoes. Please feel free to check out her blog for some great recipes.

For this week's WHB I have decided to experiment with the relationship between strawberries and basil. I have noticed that chefs have been pairing them up lately, and, as I have a lot of strawberries and my basil is looking pretty healthy, I thought I would pair them up this weekend. (Matchmaker that I am) So instead of an unusual plant ingredient, I went with an unusual combination and presented it two ways.

First, a cocktail. Shall we?

Strawberry and Basil Summer Cocktail

4 oz vodka
¼ cup simple syrup
1 cup ice
10 opal basil leaves (purple)
20 small-med very ripe strawberries

Puree together in a blender.
Serve garnished with a strawberry and basil leaf. Makes 2 large cocktails. Serve to any worn out, hard working spouse as they walk through the door and they will love you forever.

Now for dinner.

I had been visiting Peter M's Greek food inspired blog Kalofagas this week and noticed that he had a lovely pasta with an herb pesto with almonds, followed by a salad that featured strawberries. This got me to wondering... what about a pesto with strawberries? I googled this idea and came across this recipe for strawberry basil pesto from Clotilde Dusoulier of Chocolate and Zucchini.

I made the pesto with sweet green basil from my garden and used a few more strawberries than she suggested. I also only had almond slivers so they got pretty toasty in the oven but that only added to the flavour, I think.

For the pasta -

1 lb. linguine, cooked to al dente in boiling, salted water
1 batch strawberry basil pesto - see above
olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 green onion, sliced thin
6 leaves sweet basil, rolled up and sliced thin (chiffonade)
8 strawberries, quartered
Hawaiian sea salt for garnish
black pepper to taste

Drain the pasta, toss with a little olive oil and then toss with pesto. Serve in pasta bowls garnished with Parmesan cheese, basil, green onions and strawberries. Drizzle a little more olive oil and finish with Hawaiian sea salt and black pepper. If you don't have Hawaiian sea salt, use a nice coarse or flaked salt.

This was a nice summery pasta that we ate on the deck, the flavours were mild but pleasant. Hubby suggested pairing it with something bold and savoury for contrast, such as a grilled garlic/peppercorn pork chop.
The verdict on strawberries and basil? Definitely a winner. The tartness of the berry is matched nicely with the earthy, pepperyness of the basil. I found this even more prominent in the cocktail than the pasta. Clearly this experiment bears repeating.

Things you may not have known about basil.

Basil originally came from Africa and South Asia.

Cooking with basil is associated mostly with Italians but it is used in many parts of the world. Italian basil is sweet, generally large leafed. Indian and Asian basil is more savoury and intensely flavoured. Indonesia has a lemon basil which is used as a condiment.

The word basil is comes from the Greek for king and is often called the king of herbs.
Basil is very sensitive to cold. In warm climates basil is a perennial but it is an annual in colder climates.
Basil looses a lot of it's flavour when dried but can easily be frozen. Don't worry about the darkened colour.
You can burn some sprigs of basil on the bbq to deter mosquitoes!