Basil brush

Basil is the most sum­mery herb of all, says Rachel Allen, who uses it in ev­ery­thing from pestos to cock­tails. Pho­tog­ra­phy by Tony Gavin

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - APPETITES -

The sweet, fresh flavour of basil makes it the quin­tes­sen­tial sum­mer herb. It’s an in­trin­sic flavour in Ital­ian and Proven­cal cook­ing, as well as in many south-east Asian recipes, and it packs such a pretty punch with its gen­tle, pep­pery notes. The clas­sic Gen­ovese pesto would, of course, have been very dif­fer­ent with­out the leafy green herb that brings its un­mis­tak­able flavour to ev­ery­thing from pas­tas and piz­zas to sal­ads and sauces. The tomato is prob­a­bly basil’s best friend, though it loves hang­ing out with all the other sum­mer veg­gies too, such as pep­pers, aubergines, cour­gettes and broad beans.

When you’re adding basil to a dish, it’s worth putting half of the leaves in for the cook­ing part and sav­ing the other half for adding in at the end; this will give you the two dimensions of basil’s great flavour.

The Ital­ians al­ways say that basil shouldn’t be chopped — which is good ad­vice, as the leaves will bruise and lose flavour quickly — so tear­ing or slic­ing is the best bet for this baby.

Re­search sug­gests that basil — which is part of the mint fam­ily — can help to fight bac­te­ria and viruses. It comes in a few dif­fer­ent guises from green to opal, sweet or lemon-scented. For south-east Asian cook­ing, it’s Thai or holy basil that’s used, but if you can’t get your hands on those, the sweet or lemon basil will be great too.

This sum­mer, I have a de­li­cious basil oil on the go, as de­scribed in my Tip, above right, but my new­est dis­cov­ery is a basil gin (made in the same way as the oil) which has, all of a sud­den, turned into my favourite sum­mery tip­ple.

BASIL AND LEMON MOJITOS (Pic­tured) Makes 1.

You will need: 4 basil leaves, torn or sliced ½ to 1 ta­ble­spoon light brown sugar ¼ of a lemon, cut into 2 pieces 35-50ml (1 ½ to 2fl oz) white or golden rum Crushed ice, to serve Lemon slices, to serve

Put the torn or sliced basil leaves, which­ever you’re us­ing, and half a ta­ble­spoon of the light brown sugar in a glass. Use the end of a wooden spoon, or some­thing sim­i­lar, to crush the basil leaves into the sugar. Next, add the lemon pieces and use the same spoon to squash and ex­tract the juices from the lemon. If you wish, you can put the glass in the fridge for about half an hour at this stage to let the flavours meld to­gether. To fin­ish, add the white or golden rum, which­ever you’re us­ing, top up the glass with the crushed ice and gen­tly stir to com­bine. Taste, adding more light brown sugar if nec­es­sary. Gar­nish with the lemon slices.

THAI PORK NOO­DLE SOUP WITH BASIL AND CORIANDER Serves 4.

You will need: 110g (4oz) medium or fine rice noo­dles 1L (1 ¾ pts) chicken stock 1 stalk of lemon­grass, bashed (or rolled with a rolling pin) and cut in half 1 x 3cm (1 ½ in) piece of gin­ger, cut into about 6 slices Juice of 1 lime 1 ta­ble­spoon fish sauce 1 ta­ble­spoon soy sauce 2 tea­spoons palm sugar or brown sugar 1-2 red chill­ies, sliced plus, to gar­nish, ½ to 1 red chilli, finely chopped and de­seeded 1 small bunch of coriander, about 20 stalks 400g (14oz) quite lean minced pork 2 tea­spoons finely grated gin­ger 1 clove of gar­lic, crushed or finely grated Salt 2 ta­ble­spoons sun­flower oil or rape­seed oil A small hand­ful of torn basil leaves

Put the medium or fine rice noo­dles, which­ever you’re us­ing, in a bowl. Pour boil­ing wa­ter over them to cover them very well, and leave them to stand for about 5 min­utes, or un­til they are soft­ened. Drain the noo­dles and set them aside, leav­ing about 50ml (2fl oz) of the soak­ing liq­uid in with the noo­dles to stop them stick­ing to­gether.

Put the chicken stock, the bashed lemon­grass halves and the sliced gin­ger in a saucepan and put it on a high heat. Bring it to the boil, then re­duce the heat to medium and sim­mer for 5 min­utes. Add the lime juice, the fish sauce, the soy sauce, the palm sugar or brown sugar, which­ever you’re us­ing, and the 1-2 sliced red chill­ies.

While the broth is sim­mer­ing, cut off the thick stems from the base of the coriander stalks, re­mov­ing just 2-3cm (about ¾ in to 1 ¼ in), and dis­card. Pick the coriander leaves off the re­main­ing stems and set aside, then finely chop the stems.

Mix to­gether the minced pork, the finely grated gin­ger, the crushed or finely grated gar­lic, which­ever you’re us­ing, and the chopped coriander stems and sea­son with salt. Roll the mix­ture into 20 balls.

Put a large fry­ing pan on a high heat, al­low it to get hot, and then add the sun­flower oil or the rape­seed oil, which­ever you’re us­ing.

Tip in the pork balls (if the fry­ing pan doesn’t fit them all com­fort­ably in a sin­gle layer, then cook them in two batches). Cook the pork balls, stir­ring them oc­ca­sion­ally, for 6-8 min­utes un­til they are golden brown and cooked in the cen­tre, then re­move them to a piece of kitchen pa­per on a plate.

Di­vide the noo­dles be­tween four warmed bowls, then add the pork balls and pour over the broth, leav­ing the gin­ger slices and the lemon­grass be­hind in the saucepan. Gar­nish with the coriander leaves, the torn basil leaves and the finely chopped red chilli, and serve.

TOMATO, BASIL AND CHEESE TART Serves 4-6.

For the short­crust pas­try, you will need: 200g (7oz) plain flour, plus a lit­tle ex­tra for rolling out the pas­try Pinch of salt 110g (4oz) but­ter, chilled and diced 1 egg, beaten For the fill­ing, you will need: 10 ripe toma­toes, halved across the equa­tor

2 ta­ble­spoons olive oil Sea salt and freshly ground pep­per ½ tea­spoon sugar 25g (1oz) but­ter 1 onion, peeled and chopped finely 200ml (7fl oz) cream 2 eggs 2 ta­ble­spoons torn or sliced basil 150g (5oz) grated cheese, such as ched­dar or Gruyere

You will need a 25cm (10in) tart tin.

First, make the pas­try. If you are mak­ing the pas­try by hand: put the plain flour and the pinch of salt in a mix­ing bowl and rub in the diced but­ter un­til it re­sem­bles coarse bread­crumbs. Add in half of the beaten egg and, us­ing your hands, bring the pas­try to­gether. If it is too dry to come to­gether, add a lit­tle more beaten egg un­til it does.

If you are mak­ing the pas­try in a food pro­ces­sor, add the plain flour, the salt and the diced but­ter. Whizz up for a few sec­onds, then add half of the beaten egg and con­tinue whizzing for just a few sec­onds un­til the pas­try comes to­gether. You might need to add a lit­tle more egg, but don’t add too much; the pas­try should just come to­gether.

Do not knead the pas­try — shape it into a round, about 1 or 2cm (less than ½ in to ¾ in) thick, us­ing your hands to flat­ten it.

Cover the pas­try with cling film and put it in the fridge for about 30 min­utes (it can sit in the fridge for up to 24 hours, and it can also be frozen for up to three months).

Re­serve any left­over beaten egg for use when you’re bak­ing the pas­try. Pre­heat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. To roll the pas­try, take it out of the fridge and place it on a floured work­top, or be­tween two sheets of cling film, which should be big­ger than your tart tin. Us­ing a rolling pin, roll the pas­try out un­til it is about just 3mm thick. Make sure to keep it round, if the tin is round; and large enough to line the base and sides of the tin.

If you’re us­ing cling film to roll out the pas­try, re­move the top layer of cling film, place the pas­try up­side down into the tart tin — the re­main­ing cling-film side should be fac­ing up. There is no need to flour or grease the tin. Press the pas­try into the edges of the tin, cling film still at­tached, and us­ing your thumb, ‘cut’ the pas­try on the edge of the tin. At this stage, it should look quite neat. If there are any holes or gaps, patch them up with some of your spare pas­try. Re­move the cling film, if you’re us­ing it, and chill the pas­try in the fridge for 10 min­utes, or even in the freezer for 5 min­utes.

Next, blind-bake the pas­try. When the pas­try is chilled, line it with parch­ment pa­per, leav­ing plenty of pa­per to come up the sides. Fill it with bak­ing beans, dried pulses or even rice (you can use these over and over), and blind-bake the pas­try for 25-30 min­utes in the pre­heated oven, un­til the pas­try feels just dry to the touch on the base. Re­move the parch­ment pa­per and the bak­ing beans or dried pulses or rice, which­ever you’re us­ing, brush the pas­try with a lit­tle of the left­over beaten egg and re­turn the pas­try to the oven for three min­utes.

Again, if there are any lit­tle holes or cracks in the pas­try, just patch them up with any left­over raw pas­try — the fill­ing will leak out in the oven if any holes haven’t been patched up. Once the pas­try is baked blind, take it out of the oven. Set pas­try aside in the tin while you make the fill­ing.

To make the fill­ing, put the halved toma­toes, cut-side up, onto a bak­ing sheet, driz­zle them with the olive oil and sprin­kle them with some sea salt and the sugar. Put them in the pre­heated oven and bake them for 40-60 min­utes un­til they are com­pletely soft and a lit­tle golden around the edges. Re­move them from the oven and al­low them to cool.

Put a fry­ing pan on a medium heat and add the but­ter. When it is melted and foam­ing, add the finely chopped onion and sea­son with sea salt and freshly ground black pep­per. Cook, stir­ring oc­ca­sion­ally, for about 10 min­utes un­til they are golden. Then re­move the pan from the heat and al­low them to cool.

In a bowl, whisk to­gether the cream and eggs and sea­son with sea salt and freshly ground black pep­per. Spread out the cooked finely chopped onion, in a layer, in the blind-baked pas­try shell. Top the layer of onion with two-thirds of the grated cheese, then ar­range the cooked tomato halves on top. Add the sliced or torn basil, which­ever you’re us­ing. Next, pour in the cream and egg mix­ture and top with the re­main­ing grated cheese. Put the tart in the oven and bake it for 30-40 min­utes un­til it’s golden brown and just set in the cen­tre.

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