Aromatic and pungent, sweet basil to me, encapsulates the taste of summer and sunnier climes. A versatile herb, I enjoy it as much in sweet dishes as I do savoury. Although robust in flavour, I've tried to grow the stuff in pots but find it to be a little tricksy. Needing good amounts of sunshine, I either over water or under water it, with leaves becoming scorched or yellowed (any tips gratefully received). So, by the bagful it is then, but try and buy from a greengrocer as they tend to be a little more generous than the supermarkets.
One of my favourite ways of eating basil and letting its pungent flavour permeate, is by making a sugar. Flavoured sugars are incredibly easy to make, yet give the air of something much more complicated. They can add an extra dimension to your food and, can be made up with pretty much anything, so let your imagination and palate reign free.
For Basil Sugar:
1 cup of caster sugar
10 large basil leaves
Place sugar and basil into a mortar; grind and mash together with a pestle, using circular movements and a bit of elbow grease. Tastes at its best when used straight away, but can be kept in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
1. Clotted Cream and Strawberry Open Sandwich:
A truly delicious way to enjoy the ripe British berries that are now in season. More of an assembly than a recipe, but nevertheless.
Spread a slice of sourdough (I used some malted sourdough from Hart's Bakery
here) with clotted cream
. Hull and slice the strawberries and then layer on top. Grind over black pepper and sprinkle generously with basil sugar. Eat.
2. Strawberry and Basil Lemonade
A refreshing way of using up a glut of strawberries or perfect for those that aren't quite so ripe.
A generous handful of strawberries
4 large lemons, juiced
Half a cup of caster sugar
300ml chilled sparkling water
Hull and blend the strawberries, adding the juice of 4 large lemons. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly. I like a little tartness to the drink but add more sugar for your taste should you wish to. Strain into a jug and top up with chilled sparkling water. Pour into a glass and sprinkle with basil sugar. Drink and savour the sugary, basil sludge at the bottom of the glass or, if you prefer stir well and mix through.
3. Lemon and Basil Ice Cream
Possibly one of my favourite cookery books of all time; Crazy Water Pickled Lemons by Diana Henry is a collection of recipes from the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. I have cooked many a dish from it and, one of my favourites and a complete revelation, is that of lemon and basil ice cream. To me, this really is summer by the scoop and once you've tasted it, shop bought ice cream tastes a little underwhelming. This is a twist on the original recipe, where basil leaves are also added to the milk to infuse overnight.
Zest of 2 large unwaxed lemons
Juice of half a lemon (optional)
550ml whole milk
4 egg yolks
100g caster sugar
250ml double cream
Add the lemon zest to the milk in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Take off the heat, cover and leave to infuse overnight. The following day, remove the zest and bring 300ml of the infused milk to the boil in a sauce pan. In a mixing bowl, beat together the egg yolks and sugar. To this, slowly pour in the hot milk, taking care to whisk thoroughly until the mixture thickens. You may need to pour this back into the saucepan and return to the heat but do not let it boil. Take the thickened mixture off the heat and once cool, whisk in the double cream (and lemon juice for a little sharpness). If you have an ice cream maker pour the mixture in, or if like me you don't, pour into a lidded container, freeze, beating the mixture periodically.
Allow to soften, scoop and serve with a generous sprinkling of basil sugar. Utter bliss.
Any suggestions on how to eat summer? I'm all ears.
Labels: Bristol, Home Cooking, I Scream, Recipe, Thirsty work