Tag Archives: basil

Good Seed: Basil

I’ve learned to say zee instead of zed for the last letter of the alphabet. I don’t say leftentant any more, I say lootenant. It took me awhile to call Karkees Kakees. (Khakis.) The one Canadian shibboleth I can’t shake is pronouncing the word for that lovely herb Bayzil. It will always be Bazzle for me, as in Basil Faulty. But all this etymological chat is just me yammering on — let’s talk about the herb.

I can’t remember the first time I tasted basil. It wasn’t as a young woman travelling  in Tuscany in February, for sure. I didn’t miss it — all the trattorias and bars stocked luscious poached pears with chocolate sauce, served warm. It wasn’t in the Quebec of my childhood: the herbal profile was Old French: summer savory, thyme, clove, nutmeg. In some Fellini time warp I found basil at the same year Marcella Hazan’s seminal Italian cookbook was published, which was close to the time  we moved to the “Ville and I planted my first garden. I’ve talked about how I love to spill seed into the ground — flowers, vegetables, and herbs, and I’m still astonished that basil is so darned easy to grow.

My husband’s paternal grandparents, operatic cooks and gardeners, didn’t grow basil — and his Nonna’s family hailed for Porta San Pietro, a suburb of Naples! I remember Nonna having a shake jar of dried basil in the pantry, next to the oregano she preferred, but she and Nonno never grew or bought fresh basilico. I’m going to lose some foodie cred here: although fresh basil is best, dried basil should never be despised.

Gardening here in Chicagoland is tough, especially if you, like me, love the economy and charm of a package of seeds, rather than bankruptcy at the Garden Center. Deep freezes, snow , and root buckling in the winter, a late spring, and a long hot summer that can be either rainy and tropical, like this year, or blistering and dry. Oh, the Augusts I’ve scoured the soles of my feet on the frizzled Astroturf of our lawn during a dry spell.( This year the lawn should be mowed every other day.) But no matter what the weather gods bring, basil grows from seed in these parts.

I always buy one basil plant from the nursery in the drunken besotted state of a Midwestern gardener in May. Among the chives, tarragon and weeds you can see the original Big Basil plant  here, and Willow’s fans can see her paws in the upper right hand corner.

I think I paid three bucks for it, and it provided that sweet, minty, summery lift I needed when every other herb was either sulking or nonexistent. But when I bought it, I spent a buck on a package of seeds, planted them in pots, and strewed them about in the beds. For you Californians, Georgians or Virginians who are probably scratching your heads about my excitement — you don’t understand. A swell herb that sprouts from every single seed? Impossible, but true.

Three planters:

Yes, there a couple of pears in those pots. Oy, the Asian Pear tree from hell is dropping fruit and attracting wasps earlier than usual — but that’s another story entirely. The branches look pretty:

I’m doing something with slices of eggplant (deep fried) ragu, pattypan squash and cheese for dinner tonight. Strewed inside and out with the cheapest and cheeriest  product of a seed pack I know. Maybe I’ll avoid the irritating pronunciation divide of the great English speaking nations and call it basilico.



Filed under About a buck, Free

Nectarines by Moonlight

I’m so lucky in my friends.The last sentence of my latest Apron of the Day post ended with an exhortation to chat about nectarines. Within what seemed like minutes I received an email from the Divine Miz Rachel — click the Lawn Tea link on my blogroll to get the fine full flavor of her writing. You don’t mind if I quote from your email, do you Dear?

“Cut/break a couple of nice juicy beauties apart, take out the pit, and lay them face-down for a few minutes on the grill whilst the steaks or burgers or sate cook.

Lay a piece of foil down in their area, transfer them to that, bellybuttons up, and put a knob of butter and a big glunch of brown sugar into the cavities.   Close the lid and let them have a few moments to themselves, then serve with a scoop of GOOOOOD vanilla ice cream nestled into their warm embrace.”

Grilling stone fruit is a culinary Good Thing; my friend Ivan is a famous fan of white peaches on the ‘Q. But late last night this method was not to be.

I love the dessert course but don’t serve it as often as I should. One of the delights of my mother’s table was that she served a sweet finale every single night, and she was a lady of eternal waistline vigilance. Although I think I’m a fine pastry cook I just don’t bake or make ice cream often enough. Part of it’s laziness, part of it’s girlish figure concerns, part of it’s a preference for carbs and protein, but it’s mostly plain laziness.

But last night it struck — my quarterly craving for something sweet. My usual solution is to moan: “Lou, get to DQ now and grab me a Peanut Buster Parfait!” He points out  that it’s past Dairy Queen closing time, which is always true, because my late onset sugar cravings happen after midnight. We were watching the BBC news on PBS, admiring the full moon, when the Sweeties Vampire bared his fangs and bit me in the neck. He could not be denied.

I scrambled to the kitchen and scoped out the possibilities. They were nonexistent, unless I wanted to commit to baking a cake at 12:30 am CDT. Then I remembered the nectarines.Because I’m committed here to to increase endorphin levels on a budget, I’ll spare you my rant about how I haven’t been able to buy, for love or money, a decent peach in thirty five years here in Chicagoland. These nectarines were not Rachel’s “nice juicy beauties,” they had the voluptuousness of  handballs, but I’d bought them hopefully, knowing that l’ve had occasional luck in home ripening nectarines. I didn’t care that I was slicing fruit that could be struck by an aluminum bat without splitting. I threw them into a saucepan, flung in a couple of handfuls of sugar and a glug  of vanilla. Remembering recent online recipes I stumbled around a pitch black herb garden and snapped off a branch of basil. Minus two leaves it went into the pot.

I didn’t poach those nectarines, I boiled the hell out of them. When they were all syrupy I stuck the whole pot in the freezer and returned to the living room to hear about some cricket test match. (I love the World of Sport segment on the BBC news — most of the stories are about sports I’ve never seen.) Ten minutes later I pulled the pretty martini glasses that my adorable nephew Miles “Danger” McArthur gave us for Christmas and layered in the nectarines, a plop of crema, a drizzle of honey and a basil leaf for garnish.I’m a mostly modest person, but I’m going to sing an aria to my woman-on-the-verge-of a -nervous-breakdown coupe. It sang. That coloratura hint of basil melded with the vanilla, the nectarines were soft and tasted of nectarines, the vanilla was the baritone.

I did remember to snap a shot. It would have been a good idea if I’d turned the dining room  light on while I was taking the pic — this photo belongs in the Food Photography Hall of Shame. If my son-in-law sees it he’ll clasp his chest. But we both ate those nectarines by moonlight, and if I ever collect a guitarist, a bass, and a drummer, “Nectarines by Moonlight is gonna be my band name.



Filed under About a buck, Food, On the Street Where I Live