Gourmet Veggie Mama

Tag Archives: Basil

Basil Ginger Cocktails

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts I’ll be hosting over the next few weeks to spice up Cocktail Thursday. Today’s guest is Priscilla Carruthers, AKA The Icebox Queen, who is a personal chef in Austin, Texas who specializes in healthy comfort food. She also writes an inspiring blog of the same name, which draws from her experiences as a chef as well as the local Austin food and wine scene and her “nomadic existence” all over Texas before settling in the capital city. I’m excited to test-drive a virgin spin on the delicious cocktail Priscilla has to offer us… and someday soon, the real thing. Those of us with basil overtaking our gardens this time of year can definitely appreciate this one!

I have the blackest of thumbs. Plants look at me and wilt. Nurseries close the blinds and turn out the lights when I pull into the parking lot. My dogs look at me with disdain when I try again, year after year, season after season, to grow another pot of herbs or a window garden with flowers. Even they can see the foreshadowing of my failure. People gift me with “easy to grow” plants, promising that, “No one can kill mint!,” and warning me to plant it in a pot to fight the spread. They shake their heads when they return to my house, realizing that plants taking over my garden would certainly beat the bare dirt and burnt up oregano that lives there now.

That is, until this time. This time, my mother didn’t just tell me what to do to have a garden, or send me home with a few plants. This time, she came with me to the nursery, and better yet, she came home with me and helped me plant them. And thanks to her, they live. They not only live, they thrive. Thanks to her fairy dusted green thumbs, I have more basil than I know what to do with. It’s starting to flower out there! I didn’t even know basil had flowers.

So this Basil Ginger Cocktail is dedicated to my mother’s verdant thumbs.

Basil Ginger Cocktails

If you don’t have as lush a garden as I do, (she giggles), store-bought basil works just as well, and it only takes a little. If you’d like this to be an adult beverage, I’d highly recommend Dripping Springs Vodka, or Tito’s; otherwise more club soda in place of the vodka would taste just as fine on a hot Austin day.

Basil Ginger Cocktail
Serves: 1
Ginger Syrup:
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and diced
  • 2 or 3 fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp ginger syrup, or to taste
  • 1 oz vodka
  • club soda
  • ice
  • 1 lime wedge
For ginger syrup:
  1. Bring water and sugar to a boil together in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and stir until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add ginger, remove from heat, and let steep for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Once the syrup has the ginger strength you'd like, strain into a small jar or pitcher.
For the drink:
  1. In the bottle of a highball glass, muddle the basil with a splash of the lime juice and ginger syrup. (If you don't have a dedicated muddler, try the other end of a wooden spoon.)
  2. Add the ice, vodka, lime, and syrup. Fill the rest of the glass with club soda.
  3. Give it a swirl and garnish with a lime wedge. Enjoy, and bask in a hot Texas summer with fresh herbs.



Tomato-parmesan soup

Soup weather! It’s here! Well, sort of. Any day that I don’t have to turn on the air conditioner is a win around here, so I’ll take it.

I do love a good crock pot meal, too. There’s no scurrying around trying to fix everything at the last minute, which is especially great on a busy evening. I am on the planning committee for a neighborhood 5K happening this weekend, and our final meeting was last night, so it was so convenient to throw everything in the crock pot and have the hubby finish up the meal shortly before I got home.

Dinner’s on the table.

I also made a loaf of Alton Brown’s whole wheat morning after bread (from I’m Just Here for More Food), which was delicious. In the end, though, I’m not sure that it’s worth the extra trouble over just making beer bread. This bread requires three rises (four if you include making the sponge), which translates to a lot of lead time.

Picky princess.

It was, however, delicious with the soup. And what better way to ring out summer and ring in fall that with a lovely warm soup that makes great use of all that beautiful late summer produce, like tomatoes and basil?

Tomato-Parmesan Soup
Adapted from this recipe from Random Thoughts and Thrills

2 lbs tomatoes, peeled and diced or milled (or 2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes, with juice)
1 cup diced carrots (about 3 large)
1 onion, chopped
1 Tbs fresh oregano (or 1 tsp dried)
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup flour
1 cup Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper

Add the tomatoes, carrots, onion, vegetable stock, oregano, and basil to a large slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, until the flavors are blended and the vegetables are soft.

About 30 minutes before serving, melt the butter over low heat in a skillet and add the flour. Stir constantly with a whisk for a couple of minutes, until the mixture is golden brown and bubbly. Slowly stir in about a cup of the hot soup. Add another 3 cups and stir until smooth. Add all back into the slow cooker. Stir and add the Parmesan cheese, the warmed milk, and salt and pepper. Add additional basil and oregano if needed.

Cover and cook on low for another 30 minutes, or until ready to serve.

Roasted tomato and basil mac and cheese

How do you take what, to me, is the consummate winter comfort food, and make it into a summer meal? Answer: tomatoes. I don’t think I would have ever thought to combine garden-fresh tomatoes with a hearty casserole like this, but Rufus’ Food & Spirits Guide has, once again, inspired me.

Take my old standby mac and cheese recipe, add a mouth-wateringly delicious heirloom tomato, a nice handful of basil from our backyard, and a little mozzarella and parmesan on top, and you have a perfect summer mac and cheese. Who knew?

Oh yeah.

The juice from the tomato mixes with the cheese sauce as it bakes, infusing the whole dish with tomato deliciousness in every bite. It truly is alchemy.

Roasted Tomato and Basil Macaroni and Cheese
Inspired by this recipe from Rufus’ Guide to Food and Spirits

2 cups dried macaroni*
2 cups milk (preferably whole)
2 Tbs flour
2 Tbs butter
2 cups grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated mozzerella
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1 large tomato, thinly sliced
2 Tbs basil leaves, sliced into thin ribbons

Preheat the oven to 350°. Cook the macaroni according to package directions and drain.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium low heat. Add the flour and mix thoroughly to make a paste. Cook, stirring, until bubbly, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, stirring to incorporate. Heat over medium low, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken, about 10 minutes.

Gradually stir the grated cheddar into the mixture, stirring to incorporate. Off the heat, fold in the cooked macaroni. Transfer to a casserole dish and spread evenly. Top with the tomato slices, sprinkle with the mozzarella and parmesan, and finish with the basil. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly. Turn on the broiler to finish, removing the dish when the cheese is slightly browned.

* I like to use whole wheat.

Orecchiette with tomato salsa cruda

Tuesdays are a bit hectic around here. The hubby gets home from work, we feed Nora her dinner, and then I’m off to core class at Rogue while the hubby gives her a bath and puts her to bed. When I get home, I’m usually tired and famished, so something quick and easy for dinner is a must.

Sometimes I outsource the cooking to the hubby, and takeout is always an option, but when you have so many beautiful tomatoes staring you in the face just begging to be used, well, that pretty much makes the decision for you.

Well, alright then.

I ran across a recipe for pasta with  sauce of fresh tomatoes, basil, and garlic in Sunset magazine recently, and bookmarked it knowing it would come in handy. The sauce doesn’t require any cooking, so that was a bonus on a day when the temperature climbed above 100. Yeah, whew.

No cook = cooler kitchen

When all was said and done, I used a couple of farmer’s market heirloom tomatoes, a half quart of our very own Sun Gold tomatoes,* and plenty of basil from our garden to make a delicious, easy, quick meal, with plenty of leftovers for all three of us for lunch today.

* Told you they were flourishing!

Nora’s stamp of approval.

I didn’t even bother reheating the pasta — just left it on the counter for a few minutes to warm up before lunch and served it as a pasta salad. It was fabulous both warm and cold. Who could say no to that?

Orecchiette with Tomato Salsa Cruda
Adapted from a recipe published in Sunset, June 2012

1 1/2 lbs mixed tomatoes, including some cherry tomatoes**
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 lb orecchiette or seashell pasta
1/2 cup shaved parmesan cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced basil leaves

Core and chop the tomatoes, and halve the cherry tomatoes. Place in a large bowl with the olive oil, garlic, and salt, and mix well. Set aside for 20-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and toss with the tomato mixture, along with the cheese and all but 1 Tbs of the basil. Add a splash of the pasta water if the sauce needs to be thinned a bit.

Serve garnished with the reserved basil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel or additional kosher salt and pepper, if desired.

** I used a couple of lovely ripe heirlooms from the farmer’s market, plus about a half quart of Sun Gold tomatoes, but any combination would be great. Whatever is freshest is likely to be best!

Tomato-basil sauce

I’ve been canning tomatoes for the past couple of weekends, because it’s that time of summer (well, at least here in Austin it is). I didn’t do any canning last summer, due to having a new baby and life feeling a bit too harried for that kind of thing, but I regretted it all winter. I did manage to freeze a couple of bags of tomato sauce, which were pleasant surprises when I uncovered them in the deep freeze. This summer, though, canning is back in full force!

I like to can tomatoes in pint jars, since they’re the size recipes tend to call for. Weekend before last, I did a batch of plain tomato sauce, which can be dressed up any which way and used in all kinds of dishes.

Plain Jane never tasted so good.

This past weekend, though, I decided to go with a new recipe utilizing another classic summer flavor: basil.

Johnson’s Backyard Garden was kind enough to give me a free bunch of basil when I picked up my bulk tomatoes at the farmer’s market on Saturday. We already have three flourishing basil plants in our garden, so, I thought, why not just throw the whole thing in the sauce? And that, along with some extra herbs and seasonings, is exactly what I did.

And it was delicious.

My 10 lbs of tomatoes made 4 pint jars of sauce, along with almost a pint left over that I’ll use this week for… something. I’m not sure what yet, but the wheels are turning. Our week is already a little pasta-heavy, so I’m leaning away from the traditional options. Any suggestions?

Tomato-Basil Sauce
Based on a recipe from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

10 lbs tomatoes
2 Tbs olive oil
2 white onions, chopped finely
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 bunch basil, leaves picked and chopped into thin ribbons
lemon juice

Prepare your canner, jars, and lids. Core and quarter 5 tomatoes. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large stock pot. Add the quartered tomatoes, crushing with the back of a spoon or a potato masher to release juices. Continue coring and quartering tomatoes and adding them to the pot, making sure the mixture continues to boil rapidly, until all of the tomatoes are in the pot. Stir well and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Remove the tomatoes from the heat and cool slightly. Process through a food mill in batches to remove skins, and return to the pot. Add the onion, garlic, salt, oregano, and basil, bring to a boil, and simmer until the sauce is reduced by half.**

Meanwhile, prepare your canner, jars, and lids. Add 1 Tbs lemon juice to each of 4 jars. Ladle the sauce into warm jars using a funnel, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe the rim and secure the lid, turning to fingertip tight. Process the jars for 35 minutes in a boiling water canner.

* Ideally, you’d use San Marzano or another Roma variety, which are ideal for sauces.

** For plain tomato sauce, simply omit the onion, garlic, and herbs here and continue with the recipe. 

Pasta with Sun Gold tomatoes

After all that tomato talk earlier this week, how about a little real tomato action? My Sun Gold tomatoes are absolutely flourishing right now — seriously, I’ve harvested a pound in the last two days, and they just keep coming — and I’ve had a use in mind for them since I first put in my order for the seedling this spring.

We first discovered Pasta with Sun Gold Tomatoes last summer, when the recipe was published in Bon Appétit, and it was so good we made it twice — once with store-bought cherry tomatoes, and the next time with farmer’s market Sun Golds. So, naturally, this year I was psyched to try it out with my very own home-grown tomatoes.

Oh yeah.

It didn’t disappoint. The sauce is silky-smooth, and so naturally sweet and good… Well, you just have to try it. It’s like summer on a plate.

Pasta with Sun Gold Tomatoes
Perfect as printed in Bon Appétit, May 2011

4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 oz Sun Gold or cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
6 oz capellini, spaghetti, or bucatini
3/4 cup finely grated Pecorino or Parmesan
8 medium fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
Toasted breadcrumbs (for garnish; optional)

Heat 3 Tbs oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add tomatoes, garlic, and red pepper flakes, season with salt, and cook, covered slightly and swirling pan often, until tomatoes blister and burst, 10-12 minutes. Press down on tomatoes to release their juices. Remove pan from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a 5 quart pot. Season with salt; add pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until about 2 minutes before tender. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water.

Transfer pasta to skillet with tomatoes; set over high heat. Add 1/2 cup pasta water. Cook, stirring and tossing often, until sauce thickens and begins to coat the pasta, about 1 minute. Stir in remaining oil, cheese, and half the basil and toss until sauce coats pasta and pasta is al dente. (Add more pasta water if sauce seems dry.) Add remaining basil, season with salt, and serve with breadcrumbs, if desired.

Pasta with tomato, basil, and onion confit

When our CSA box arrived this week with a lovely batch of Early Girls, our first tomatoes of the season, I was delighted.

Hello, ladies.

What to make with these beauties? Since early-season tomatoes sometimes need a little flavor help, I decided to forgo my favorite simpler tomato presentations (caprese salad, or just sliced with a little salt and eaten by the forkful) until we see some later-season heirlooms. With this batch, I experimented with tomato confit, since we had a beautiful bunch of basil and an onion to play with, too.

Dinner is served.

Served atop a bed of whole wheat rigatoni and finished with a sprinkle of parmesan, it was delightful, and super-simple to make. Oh, tomato season, how I love you! And it’s only just begun…

Pasta with Tomato, Basil, and Onion Confit
Based on a recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables by Alice Waters

6 (or more) tomatoes
1 small onion, halved and sliced.
basil leaves
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Pasta (such as angel hair or spaghetti)**

Preheat the oven to 350. Peel* and core the tomatoes.Arrange a bed of basil leaves in an oven-safe dish just big enough to fit the tomatoes. Spread the onion slices over the basil, and arrange the tomatoes, cored side down, over the onions. Add enough olive oil to come about halfway up the sides of the tomatoes in the dish. Bake for about an hour and a half, or until very fragrant

* Generally, I would do this by scoring the bottom of the tomatoes, immersing them in boiling water for a few seconds, then immersing them in a an ice bath to make them easy to peel. This time, however, I forgot I was supposed to peel the tomatoes until after I had already cored them, so I tried a fruit peeler. It was a little fussier, but worked like a charm!

** Any kind of pasta will work. I had some refrigerated whole wheat rigatoni that had been slated for a different meal that I didn’t end up making, so I used it and it was lovely. A thinner pasta would do a better job of soaking up the sauce, though.

Vegetable mixed grill with basil vinaigrette

With a freshly delivered CSA box brimming with fresh vegetables and a beautiful, sunny evening ahead of us, could there be any better way to enjoy it than to fire up the grill, open a nice bottle of rosé, and sit out on the back porch? That’s exactly what we did on Friday night.

While I chopped the veggies, the hubby preheated the grill and pulled a couple of quinoa burgers out of the freezer.

Hello, my lovelies.

He grilled dinner, and I made a simple basil vinaigrette to serve on the vegetables: a fresh-from-the-farm mix of pearl onions, zucchini, summer squash, purple potatoes.

Oh yeah.

Add some sliced grilled onions and a little wilted spinach to the burgers, and you’ve got a lovely meal to enjoy on the back porch while the sun sets.

Basil Vinaigrette
Original recipe from Food & Wine, with my modifications

1 large clove of garlic
1 large bunch of basil, leaves picked and coarsely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbs champagne vinegar
pinch of crushed red pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor, pulse the garlic until chopped. Add the basil and pulse until finely chopped. Add the oil, vinegar and crushed red pepper and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

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