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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What to do with Kale & Basil (and other abundant herbs!)


Now is the time to start stocking up on your herbs and using them in creative ways. I've been experimenting with pesto recipes lately.  My basic recipe usually omits the cheese and garlic, making a "base" of pesto to which you can add cheese and garlic later, or not at all.  I've made pesto with other a mix of herbs such as mint, parsley, cilantro, dill, chives, tarragon, or whatever is growing in my herb boxes. Mint and basil and parsley are my stand-by herbs, because they are available in abundance and they play well together.  Swapping out the nuts is another favorite thing to do - you don't always have to use pine nuts; walnuts, almonds, cashews, and pistachios work beautifully as well, so long as you toast the nuts before adding to the pesto.  The other thing I like to do is either blanch or roast the garlic that I'm using, to tame it's sharp, bitter edge.

By adding in kale or spinach, you are boosting the nutritional qualities and adding a much needed chlorophyll component to keeping your pesto bright green.  It's also a fantastic way to stretch you pesto without adding fat calories.  Plus, when you're stuck with a bunch of kale from your CSA or latest farmers' market purchase, it's a nice way to use that kale in a healthy and useful way.

To make the fully-finished batch of pesto vegan, I simply omitted the cheese and instead used a generous helping of mustard powder as the binding agent.  Herbs, spinach or kale, olive oil, roasted or blanched garlic, a nut of choice, salt and pepper and a dash of red or white wine vinegar makes a most inviting pesto that will keep you and many meals happy for weeks or even months to come.  I store my pesto in small jars/containers, often freezing them so that I have them on hand for months to come.

As for other ways to use the herbs that are flourishing in your's and the farmers' market gardens, making a batch of basil or other herb oils is key; freezing and drying herbs is also an option.  For fragrant but delicate herbs like basil and mint, fill small zip-lock sandwich sized bags with cleaned and dried herbs; press out most of the air that you can, and freeze flat in your freezer.  You can break off pieces of the frozen basil or mint as you need it for your cooking dishes.  The herbs will look dark and muddy but their fragrant "oomph" will be there for you as soon as the herbs hit the warmer air or saute pan.  Drying these two herbs will only diminish and ruin them.  They just are not the same and are not worth keeping as dried herbs in your pantry.

Herbs that do best as dried are oregano - and according to my favorite blogger and Instagramer - PhillyFoodist, oregano only comes to life once it's dried.  Take bunches of the herb, tie or bind it by the stems and hang upside down somewhere dark and cool for a few days, or alternatively, dry the oregano in your oven, on a sheet pan, while the oven is off, overnight.

Rosemary, tarragon, dill and chives can be dried or frozen - they all work well either way.  Cilantro and Parsley I prefer to be fresh but freshly dried is infinitely better than almost any store brand.  How I handle my parsely is to clean it, dry it in a clean tea towel, then roughly chop it.  I then put the chopped parsley onto a sheet pan or dish and allow it to dry out overnight.  It retains a fresh bright green hue and it's snap too.  It works well as a dash of "confetti' over a finished dish or in a pasta at serving.

Here's my new version of vegan Kale and Herb Pesto.  For my other many pesto recipes, here are some links to check out:  Kale, Basil and Herb - Traditional Pesto.  Spinach and Basil Pesto (the spinach keeps the pest bright green, stretches it and ads loads of nutrition!).  A whole wheat pasta and vegetable medley with pesto (recipe meal ideas here!)


Vegan Kale Basil Parsley and Mint Pesto Ingredients:  Updated from a June 23, 2014 Post
  • 2-3 Cups (loosely packed; about 1 small/medium bunch) Fresh Kale Leaves - cleaned, de-stemmed of woody/tough center rib
  • 1 Bunch Basil (about 1 cup loosely packed)- cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/2 Cup Parsley - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Fresh Mint Leaves - cleaned and leaves removed from stems
  • 1/4 cup to 1/2 Cup of other Herbs of choice, such as Tarragon, Dill and Chives (optional)
  • 4 Garlic Cloves - peeled & blanched or roasted
  • 1/2 to 3/4 Cup Olive Oil - or more as needed
  • 1/4 Cup Toasted Walnuts, or Almonds. or Pine nuts, or Cashews or Pistachios
  • Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1/4 Cup Dry Ground Mustard Powder - such as Colemans.  Use a mild mustard, not a spicy one
  • 1 Tablespoon White or Red Wine Vinegar

Equipment Needed:
  • Food Processor or Blender
  • Rubber Spatula
  • small sauce pot and sieve or fine mesh strainer
Directions:
1. Clean the kale, basil, parsley and mint and other herbs you are using.  Set aside.


2. Bring a large pot of  water to a rolling boil.  Add in a tablespoon of salt.  Next, add in the de-stemmed kale leaves and cook for 5 minutes.  Add in the garlic after 5 minutes and cook for 1 minute more.




3.  Put the basil leaves, parsley and mint into a colander and then drain the blanched kale leaves and garlic in that same colander, pouring the hot  water over the herb leaves.  Drain, and then immediately run cold water over everything to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze the kale and herbs dry, wringing out as much water as possible.

4. Add the blanched kale, garlic and herbs, (basil and parsley, etc),  into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment or into a large/heavy duty blender.  Pulse a few times to get the leaves to start forming a paste. Keep the the lid on the blender or food processor and the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil in a slow stream through the pin-hole or removable lid of the blender or food processor.  The mixture should form a paste.  If need be, turn off the machine, and scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Replace lid and turn the machine back on and continue adding in the oil.  The mixture should be thick, not runny, but should also be a bit loose.  

5. Scrap down the sides of the work bowl or blender and add in the toasted and cooled nuts , then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pulse a few more times to grind the nuts.  Lastly, add in the dry mustard powder and the vinegar and pulse a few more times.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
  
6. Store the pesto tightly covered and refrigerated.  Pesto without the cheese added to it can be frozen for up to 3 months.  This pesto will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.  Adding the kale to it will help maintain its intense green colour. Makes 2 cups of pesto or more, depending on how generous you are with your handfuls and bunches!

Add more of each, kale, basil, parsley, mint, oil, as needed.  My recipes, as usual, are a casual affair.  I usually toss in ingredients until I think they are where I want them to be!

My Basil Oil recipe is from a post all the way back in 2011!  It's actually a recipe I love to share all the time, but I'll reprint it here.  To see the original post, here's the link  BASIL OIL in 6 EASY STEPS

Basil Oil in 6 Easy Steps

Every summer I make big batches of basil oil, which is similar to pesto but better because it's fresher, lighter, more fragrant and in an odd way, healthier.  The basil oil that I make yields two products (the gorgeous oil and the basil paste), lasts for nearly a year if you freeze it in small batches and you can still make pesto out of it whenever you need it.  I was looking through my recipe archives on the blog and realize that while I talk about basil oil and make it every year, I don't think I've posted a recipe for it on this blog, until now.

Here in six easy steps is your key to making use of all the fragrant basil that is in abundance in gardens and farmers markets.  The recipe is more about the technique so exact amounts aren't necessary.  I picked as much basil as I could out of my garden without completely stripping my basil plant of all of its leaves.  I estimate I used about a half pound of basil leaves and a full liter of light olive oil.  The oil you use shouldn't be expensive or extra virgin.  I'll tell you a secret about flavored oils - they are usually the cheapest, poorest quality oils, as the flavoring agents are what you are tasting.  I'm not advocating buying a crap olive oil, but don't stress and spend the big bucks on a fancy schmancy imported Extra Virgin, organic and or limited pressed olive oil.  Buy a decent bottle of light olive oil from your supermarket.  You can even use canola oil or an olive oil blend though I prefer the flavor of plain light olive oil since I will be using the oil for cooking and the basil by-product in pesto.  If you are going to make this, make a large batch and freeze it in small containers or in ice cube compartments.   In the bleak mid-winter, you'll thank me for having it on hand as a reminder of the glory days of summer.  The recipe is written to make a liter of basil oil.

Basil Oil Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound of Fresh Basil Leaves
  • 1 Liter of Light Olive Oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Salt
  • 4 Quart Sauce Pot or larger filled with cold water

Directions:
1. PICK THE and CLEAN THE BASIL LEAVES: 
Remove the stems and clean the basil in cool water.  










2. BOIL WATER AND BLANCH THE BASIL LEAVES& THEN SHOCK THEM TO COOL
Bring a large pot of water to boil; when the water comes to a rolling boil, add in 2 tablespoons of salt. Working in batches, add the cleaned basil leaves to the pot of boiling water and blanch for 30 seconds; Remove the blanched basil leaves and immediately shock in cold water.

3. STRAIN THE BLANCHED BASIL AND PUT INTO A FOOD PROCESSOR: 
Strain the blanched and cooled basil leaves and wring dry of excess water.  Don't worry about "man-handling" the basil leaves, they can take the abuse at this point.  Besides, they'll be pulverized in your food processor or blender, turning into a darkened paste in a few moments!  Add all the basil leaves to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.  If you are using a blender, work in batches and fill the blender half full with the basil leaves, tamp down a bit and then add a handful more of the blanched basil.

 
4. PROCESS THE BASIL WITH THE OIL:
With your food processor or blender off, pour in half of the olive oil.  Then put the lid on the food processor or blender tightly.  Pulse to blend and get the oil and basil moving in the work bowl.  For a food processor - pour in the remaining olive oil through the food processor's top.  If using a blender, turn the machine off, add in more basil and olive oil and pulse again.  Pulse or blend until the mixture is thoroughly incorporated and the basil is completely pulverized.  

5. PUT THE MIXTURE INTO A CONTAINER AND REFRIGERATE: 
When all the basil and olive oil is used and the mixture is completely pureed, carefully pour the mixture into a large, clean glass or plastic container.  Seal with a tight fitting lid and refrigerate up to 3 days to allow the basil's flavor to fully incorporate into the olive oil and turn it the most beautiful chartreuse shade of green.

6. STRAIN THE BASIL FROM THE OLIVE OIL TO MAKE YOUR OIL and PESTO PRODUCTS: 
After the olive oil has steeped for a few days (up to a week), take the container out of the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature and return to a liquid state.  Strain the basil "sludge/paste" out of the oil using a fine mesh strainer.  For a pure, sediment free basil oil, strain it several times through as fine mesh strainer (or use a coffee filter) as you have on hand.  Save the basil paste to use in a pesto base, adding cheese, pine nuts, garlic and salt and pepper.  The basil paste can also be used to flavor sauces, tomato sauces, soups, vegetables, potatoes, salad dressings or other dishes when a pop of intense basil flavor is needed.  Use the basil oil as you would regular olive oil; salad dressings, to saute foods; as a drizzling oil; for dipping bread; to flavor mashed/smashed or boiled potatoes.  Refrigerated, both the basil and the oil will keep for a few weeks in tightly covered containers.  For best storage, freeze the oil and the basil paste in small batches. Frozen, both products will keep for up to 9 months.

UPDATE @ 9/12/11: Here's what it will look like after several days of "steeping" and settling in the refrigerator:
The basil puree will settle to the bottom and the luscious green basil oil will be on top.  At this point, allow the oil to come to room temperature for easier pouring.  Strain the oil through a fine mesh strainer inter a clean container and reserve both the oil and basil puree separately.  I filled and froze an entire ice cube tray with the basil.  I have about 3/4 of this container filled with the oil - about 3 to 4 cups of basil oil.  Freeze it in small containers so you can use only what you need.  Ideally, I like to freeze it as ice cubes, then pop them out of the tray, and put into a heavy duty freezer bag.  I take out only as many cubes as I need to use for my cooking/sauce making/or flavor enhancers throughout the winter.  Otherwise, if you freeze it in too large of a container, you won't be able to use it as easily. Also, if you attempt to keep it refrigerated, by the time you go to grab it a month or more later, it will have sprouted a fuzzy wuzzy coat.  Not pleasant and not appetizing.  


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