Eat Well & Share: Basil adds a lovely punch of flavor to many dishes (2024)

It’s basil season! And as much as I look forward to this year’s crop of freshly made pesto, there are so many other things to do with basil that I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

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There are over 150 varieties of basil including the most popular/common sweet basil variety, which is highlighted here in this month’s recipes. Some additional types to grow and try are lemon basil, which is lovely when used for grilled fish recipes; purple basil, which adds depth to a fresh green or a bean salad; Thai basil as an essential ingredient in Southeastern Asian dishes such as Pho or curries; and cinnamon basil, which can add a beautiful complexity to a fresh fruit salad.

The best way to store basil is in the refrigerator in a plastic Ziplock-type bag with a slightly dampened paper towel inside where it should keep nicely for about a week.

In addition to adding delightful flavor to your recipes, basil has antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties and is high in vitamins K, calcium, iron, lutein, zeaxanthin and a handful of other minerals. There is some evidence about basil such as that it may help lower blood pressure, improve digestion, help manage anxiety, and may help your body fight infections.

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Since basil adds a lovely punch of flavor to many dishes, it really shines when you feature it as the main ingredient. Each of the recipes here has only a few ingredients and yet by virtue of the basil, would be the star of any menu.

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Basil & Lemon Spaghetti

(Serves 4-6)

  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into tablespoon size pieces
  • 4 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ cups basil leaves, julienned
  • ½ cup finely grated Romano or parmesan cheese. Additional cheese as a garnish if you like
  • salt and pepper

Prepare the spaghetti according to package directions, which generally will be to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta, stir it often enough to keep it from sticking to itself and cook until al dente, about eight-10 minutes.

Reserve half a cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta.

In the pot you cooked the pasta in, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in the olive oil. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice and the half-cup of pasta water, and stir until well combined. Add the spaghetti to the pot and toss to coat. Add the remaining tablespoons of butter and gently continue to toss the spaghetti until they’ve melted into the rest of the sauce. Add the cheese and the salt and pepper, again tossing to incorporate. Add the basil, toss again and serve. Option: Top each individual serving with additional grated cheese.

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Mini Caprese Salad

(Serves 4-6)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 8-oz container of mini mozzarella balls (Ciliegine, bocconcini or mozzarella pearls), drained
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 3 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tb balsamic vinegar
  • salt and freshly ground pepper

Toss the cherry tomatoes, mozzarella balls and basil together with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Drizzle with the balsamic vinegar and serve.

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Basil Limeade

(Serves 2)

One of my favorite restaurant experiences was when I ordered a lemonade and was handed a glass of lemon juice and water, a shaker of sugar and a spoon. Once you get over the “what the heck??” factor, you realize that the amount of sugar in your lemonade is in fact a highly personal thing and nothing makes me happier than to be in charge of my own destiny, so I’ve preferred it this way ever since. In that spirit, feel free to vary the amount of sugar in this recipe to taste.

  • 1/3 cup of sugar, or more or less
  • half cup of water
  • juice of 4 limes
  • ½ cup of cold water
  • ½ cup basil leaves
  • optional garnishes: lime slices, basil sprigs

In a small pan, over medium heat, melt the sugar in half a cup of water. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a blender (I used a magic bullet; it doesn’t have to be fancy), blend all of the ingredients (the sugar water, lime juice, cold water and basil leaves) until the basil is completely blended. Allow to rest for five minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and add enough cold water to make two tall glasses.

Serve over ice and garnish with lime slices and/or a basil sprig, if you like.

***

Our Mission at Helena Food Share: Serving our neighbors in need by providing food in a respectful and dignified way and by working with others to eliminate hunger in the greater Helena area.

If you are in need of food and would like more information, if you would like to make a donation, or if you would like to learn more about how you can help build our new Community Food Resource Center, contact Helena Food Share at: 406-443-3663, or visit our website at www.helenafoodshare.org

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Sally Beck works at Helena Food Share where she is a regular chef demonstrating new recipes on their Charlie Cart mobile kitchen. She is a food enthusiast, professional baker and has owned her own restaurant.

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Eat Well & Share: Basil adds a lovely punch of flavor to many dishes (2024)

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