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How to make Basil Oil


This may be the garnish to end all garnishes.  I remember so vividly the day we learned this in culinary school, and how I raced home to try it myself, feeling like I had just unlocked some illusive five star chef secret.

This simple little technique gives you magnificent, fragrant green gold to drizzle about a plate, swirl atop a bowl of soup (it floats!), and dunk very lucky crusty bread in.  Seriously, this just smeared on a white plate, and you look like a superstar.  Regular ol' oil becomes glistening emerald and is all things basil...or parsley or cilantro--it works for a variety of herbs.  I made a thai basil-cilantro oil to drizzle around a Thai-spiced quail dish that worked beautifully.

The oil will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.  I've also frozen it in ice cube trays to defrost later in the year, to swirl on top of a creamy soup, or drizzle along side some roasted salmon.  But try this now, even to just dress up some sliced tomatoes.  There. Is. Nothing. Better.




Basil Oil

Makes approximately 1/4 cup

3/4 cup packed Basil leaves, washed
70% Grapeseed Oil
30% Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Note:  You'll want to use a mixture of oils here.  The grapeseed oil is much lighter and much more neutral in flavor, so it will best allow the basil flavor to come through.  But adding a little olive oil to the mixture, gives it some heft and richness that will also compliment the food you are putting the oil on.  The measurements can be approximate, but shoot for a 70/30 ratio.  You'll need enough oil to cover the leaves in the blender, somewhere between a quarter and a half of a cup.

1.  Pour boiling water over the fresh herbs in large heatproof bowl.  Let steep for thirty seconds.

2.  Add ice and cold water to the bowl to stop the cooking of the leaves.

3.  Remove the herbs from the water and squeeze dry, then squeeze again, hard, with paper towels to remove as much water as possible.

4.  Put blanched herbs in a blender.  Pour in enough grapeseed and olive oil to just cover the height of the leaves.  Blend well for about a minute.

5.  Pour pureed herb and oil mixture into sauce pan on medium heat.  You will see a much brighter green color start to form on the outside rim of the pan as the particles of the herbs start to cook through.  Stir gently, until the entire pan has changed to the brighter color, approximately 1-2 minutes.  Do not let the oil boil or cook at too high a heat, and burn or fry the basil.  Turn down if bubbling too rapidly.



6.  Strain oil through fine strainer lined with several layers cheese cloth.  (Tip:  Wet and wring out the cheesecloth before putting it into the strainer.  This will rinse out any dust particles from the packaging, and the cloth, if saturated with water, will absorb less of the precious oil.) Pour into squeeze bottle or airtight container. Will keep in the refrigerator for about a week or can be frozen for several months, defrosted for a few hours in the refrigerator.



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uly
26
Technique Tuesday: Using Edible Flowers
 



These weeks the gardens are bursting with flowers.  Not the flower gardens, but the herb and vegetable gardens.  Some of the flowers I planned on (nasturtiums and chamomile), some are part of the journey (pole bean blossoms which will become bean pods), and some are a result of me not harvesting fast enough and a bit of the plant going to seed (cilantro, basil, dill, oregano, and radish).

I'm a big proponent of using as much of a plant or vegetable as I can.  One of my favorite "tip to toe" recipes doing this is Chef Bill Telepan's Beet Greens Pierogi with Mixed Summer Beets and Brown Butter Sauce.  I also got much too excited when I learned in a master class in culinary school, with chef Michael Anthony of NYC's Gramercy Tavern, that I could pickle the technicolored chard stems I had been pushing aside and composting for years.

It is equally exciting for me to use flowers in dishes.  As mentioned, some are planned, some are not, but there is a lot of flavor, and a ton of color and texture there that would otherwise go to waste.  They are not just a pretty face--and frequently fetch a premium price at the markets.  Certainly make sure you know what you are serving and eating, so as not to go all Arsenic and Old Lace on unsuspecting BBQ guests.  But there are so many varieties of edibles around right now, and just a small edition of a few feels very very special.

Cleaning and Storage

Try to pick the flowers as close to use as possible.  Store them, unwashed, wrapped gently in paper towel in the refrigerator, protected in a bowl or open container.  Teeny tiny bugs love to hide out in their petals and folds, so examine each blossom carefully.  To wash, and to refresh flowers that are a little droopy, plunge the entire blossom in a bowl of cold water for about five minutes, and then allow to dry on a paper towel.  After washing, flowers can be floated. right side up, in a bowl of cold water until ready to go onto the plate.

Ideas for Use

- Salads!  Whole or torn, little bursts of blossom color are a magnificent addition to salads.  Nasturtiums in particular, leaves and flowers, with a wonderful peppery zing, are a great addition.  But also think about the flowers of complimentary herbs like dill, basil, cilantro, and chervil.  Then consider adding some of the same herb to the dressing to tie it all together.

- Garnish soups by floating a single blossom in the middle of the bowl.  This is particularly effective with cold soups, as it won't wilt the flower.  Try it with Borage, a beautiful purple flower with a taste very similar to fresh cucumber.

- Decorate cakes, cupcakes and pastry with a blossom here and there.  Edible flowers definitely each have their own flavor, so stick with the sweeter and more floral plants for this, like chamomile, lavender, and mint.

- Tear up some petals and sprinkle them over a plate or platter like confetti right before serving.  Or make a tiny micro salad of flowers to top a piece of grilled fish or meat.


A quick snapshot from lunch--Buttermilk with Fuji Apple Dashi, Market Herbs and Flowers, and Pine Nuts at Momofuku Ssäm Bar, NYC.





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13
Garlic Scape Vinegar


With our growing season a little later here in slightly cooler upstate New York, we still have bundles and bundles of garlic scapes in the markets and gardens for a week or two.  A garlic scape is the flower shoot that has shot up from the stem of a hardneck garlic bulb when growing.  The scapes are slender, bright green, and often twisting and turning in elegant swan-like shapes.  Shortly after they appear, which seems to happen almost overnight, it is important to snap them off of the rest of the stem to allow the garlic plant to instead put its energy into growing the garlic bulb, which will be harvested a few weeks later.


The scapes have a flavor that is definitely garlic, but much mellower, with hints of herbal summerness.  They make a stunning pesto, turning into an outrageously bright green paste that keeps its color when cooked or frozen.  I will often just puree garlic scapes with olive oil and freeze in about one cup portions that will keep for several months.


Always on the lookout for new oils and vinegars for homemade salad dressings, this year I made garlic scape infused vinegar.  It will still be a week or so before it hits its full potency, but so far so good, and the snaking scapes in the bottles are stunning if nothing else.  The vinegar will be beautiful in simple vinaigrettes to dress greens and cucumbers from the garden, and also added to a marinade for grilling meat and seafood, splashed on sauteed chard, collards or kale, or for dunking crusty grilled bread.


If your herb garden is overflowing, you can certainly add a few sprigs of basil, dill, thyme, or even a dried chili pepper to the bottle for your own personal melange.  Experiment, use what is around you, and enjoy.


GARLIC SCAPE VINEGAR
by Catie Schwalb


1-2 whole garlic scapes, about 12" in length
1 cup light flavored vinegar, such as white wine vinegar or rice vinegar

Glass container
non-metal cap or cover

Note:  I like the ratio of 1-2 scapes per cup of vinegar, but you can certainly add more to make the flavor more concentrated.  And absolutely double or triple the recipe based on the size of container you are using.  Triple the recipe, for example, if using a wine bottle.

1.  Sterilize the bottle and cap, either by simmering in hot water on the stove for 10 minutes or washing in the dishwasher right before using.  Allow to container and cap to dry thoroughly.

2.  Wash garlic scapes and dry completely.  Cut into lengths that will allow the scape to be completely submerged below the level of the vinegar.  Any exposed piece of scape not in the vinegar will start to deteriorate and rot.

3.   Gently bruise the scapes, by rolling over slightly with a rolling pin, to release a bit more flavor.

4.  Place the scape pieces in the sterilized container and cover completely with vinegar.  Cover with lid, cap or cork.

5.  Store in the refrigerator, or other cool, dark place.  The following day, check the level of the vinegar and add more if the level has dropped at all.  It is possible that the scapes will absorb some overnight.

6.  Allow to infuse for 10 days to 2 weeks, in a cool, dark place.  Strain out original garlic scape pieces, if desired, and replace with fresh ones (if available), primarily for decoration.  Will keep for 2-4 months.

Keep vinegar bottle out of sunlight or it will become cloudy.

The acid in the vinegar acts as an inhibitor for bacteria growth, but certainly keep an eye out for changes in color, an off smell, or cloudiness in the bottle and discard if there is a question.  Storing the vinegar in the refrigerator, particularly in the summer months, is the safest.



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Market Watch: Sorrel
Sorrel (and its many varieties and names: garden sorrel, english sorrel, common sorrel, french sorrel) is showing up now in abundance at farmers markets and in gardens.  It is a perennial (it comes back each year) herb, with super tender leaves that pack a ton of vitamins C and A.

It is incredibly easy to grow yourself, in a spot with full sun.  We planted a small plant last year, basically ignored it, and this season it has not only returned, but is already 2+ feet tall.

The long, oval, slightly pointed, arrow-like leaves are thin, soft and delicate, like a baby lettuce leaf.  What is most remarkable about this herb is its decidedly sour flavor.  The name Sorrel is derived from the word sour, and is also, with a deliberate nod, the name of the sour-lipped daughter in Noel Coward's Hay Fever.  A role I've played and adored.

Bright and tart, it is not unlike adding lemon zest to a recipe.  The flavor mellows out a good amount when cooked, and is less pronounced in younger leaves.  But to get it's full get its full zing, it can definitely be used raw.

Sorrel is wonderful added to salads, or pureed raw and frozen to brighten up winter dishes.  It is a natural with eggs, potatoes, fish, or pureed in a cream sauce, and can be sauteed like spinach.  My first experience cooking with sorrel, and still my favorite, is a Chard and Sorrel Soup found in Deborah Madison's vegetable-bible cookbook Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

Keep an eye out for this leafy green treasure at markets now and throughout the summer.  Buy more than you need, and freeze some for when your heavy root vegetable winter month meals need some summery assistance.

 


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Food of the (near) Future




Despite the fact that I haven't seen but a mere patch of ground at our home since prior to Christmas, despite the fact that we still have a foot of snow almost everywhere I look, despite the fact that just looking at flip flops gives me chills, the eternal optimist in me spent the balance of the weekend ordering thousands of heirloom vegetable seeds for this year's crop at our little micro farm.

Ideally, if the sun and rain cooperate, (and the sheep don't bust through the fence and help themselves to beds upon beds of gorgeous heirloom kale, leeks, peppers, brussels sprouts, beets, salad greens, and herbs, as happened briefly on one unfortunate day in October), those seeds and their resulting crop will then become a huge percentage of our food for the coming year, and many of the ingredients that I will cook for you here.

If you are bitten by the promise of dirt under your fingernails and eating within a five minute radius bug too, here are a few of my best resources for heirloom seeds and plants.  Each offer a mind-bloggling assortment of vegetables, fruit, and herbs.  They also fiercely protect seeds of endangered heirloom varieties so generations to come will have a vast diversity of produce available as well.


(more…)


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Catie Baumer Schwalb is a chef, food writer and photographer, who splits her life between the city and the country. Not too long ago Catie was a New York City based actress and playwright for more than a decade. She has her Master of Fine Arts from the National Theater Conservatory, and her Grand Diplôme in classic culinary arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York City. ... Read More

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