Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Beauteous Basil

This month, in the theme of green and in ode of Saint Patrick himself the spotlight is on the star of any herb garden…Beautiful or beauteous Basil. Just as is the case with most herbs, Fresh is best. And in fact with basil, fresh is infinitely better! Because of their luscious dark green leaves, basil bruise easily, damaging and tainting all those tongue-tingling flavours. In my opinion it is definitely one of the more inviting herbs to look at. Especially when it is shiny, plump and blemish free.

A selection of the goods: Italian parsley + BASIL + sage
There are a number of varieties of this treasured beauty that seem to have popped up on menus and in our supermarkets over the last few years. Thai basil is definitely one of those. A slightly sweet basil, with its spicy liquorice scent made famous as the star ingredient in a Thai ‘Pho’ soup. To broaden your culinary knowledge-‘Pho’ is a traditional beef or chicken noodle soup, made with rice noodles, bean sprouts and flavoured with mint, lime and of course Asain basil. I have penciled this in on my list of EATS to consume when I one-day reach Thailand.

Hey pesto

But back to our old mate Basil. Ultimately you could say that this guy has been made famous by his starring role in ‘Pesto’. That delicious concoction of nuts, parmesean cheese, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and a good bunch of the green herb himself. The thing about pesto that is so great, is that you can flavour it any-way you like, and use whatever ingredients seem to be overflowing in your kitchen. Of all the pesto’s I have bought and created, its hard to beat the original Basil. I like to eat it spread on any and everything that is willing to have it. Particularly delicious are slow-roasted tomatoes with a dollop of basil pesto on top. The perfect accompaniment to any meal.


Speaking of the tomato. That flavour explosion you experience when enjoying basil is immensely complimented by a tomato in any form. The classic Italian salad known as Insalata Caprese is another opportunity where these great foods combine. Sliced tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella cheese, fresh basil leaves, some good quality olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. Quite literally Italy on a plate. So light and refreshing, and the perfect way to let our star herb shine through. Bruschetta is another delectable canvas for basil served with a zingy tomato salsa atop toasted ciabatta.

Canapes featuring the dynamic duo

I am fortunate to have a mother whom keeps a very tidy vege garden, and so our basil supply has kept me and my tastebuds complete. If you have never experienced the joy and flavour of a fresh basil leaf, then I suggest going in search of one and giving it a try. You will not regret it.
Note: He’s pretty bloody good on spuds too. Just saying. 

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

One Very Blue Berry.

Over these last summer months the infamous blueberry has taken its rightful place on our refridgerator shelf. In her small wee plastic box she waits in anticipation of the explosion of joy she creates for whomever, whatever and whichever lucky tart gets to indulge in her glory. She is blue. She is a berry. And she is a real beauty. Starting back at the mbp dictionary the blueberry plant is described as a ‘hardy dwarf shrub, with small whitish drooping flowers and dark blue edible berries.’ But it is the latter of course that I am most interested in.

So plump, so juicy.

There is something undoubtedly festive about berries. Apart from their obvious abundance during the Christmas period. Anything associated with these small gems of sweetness seems to lift spirits and get’s us in the mood for some serious celebration. After a journey to Rotorua to collect a dear friend we made a stop at the infamous ‘Okere Falls Store’ which sits just across from Lake Rotoiti. This place is a food-lovers paradise. It’s Deli consists of a beautiful mix of gourmet condiments, sauces, meats, ice-creams, chocolates, breads, freshly baked goods, cabinet delights, top notch Rocket Coffee and a luxurious German-inspired all-day menu. They sell a range of local and imported artisan products. There is even a funky outdoor Beer Garden serves German Bier and Bratwursts to boot and a quick trip out to it’s port-a-loo is well worth it. Check out their website here. http://www.okerefallsstore.co.nz/  Ok there goes my sales pitch. But really you must go! Back to the berry…
Within the fridge loaded with fresh local organic products, it was hard to look past the large plastic container of gigantic, luscious and succulent blueberries. So in exchange for a tenner we happily took the goods home. These guys were what you would consider the king of all blueberries, and I would be inclined to say the biggest I’ve ever seen! Unlike some of the supermarket packs you get. Every single one proceeded to enter my mouth with that same subtle explosion releasing its sweet juicy goodness.

The ultimate summer sweet-treat
I have seen people pop blueberries in ice-cubes to float in a glass of champagne or punch- which to me screams Party-time! Recently we topped a bunch of Mini Lemon Curd tarts with the whimsical berries. The contrast of bright yellow against the deep indigo worked perfectly while the acidity of the lemon was the ultimate companion for the sweetness of the blueberry. Needless to say these cute little treats didn’t last long.

You'll do.

I had been interested in trying out a vegan, nut-based crust for a berry pie, and opted to fill it with some more of these beautiful berries. The base consisted of ground almonds, coconut oil, wholemeal flour, and cinnamon. The undertone of coconut combined nicely with the berries and was delicious with a dollop of natural yoghurt.

A welcome addition to my morning oatmeal.

My final adventure with these minute little berries involved balsamic vinegar and a piece of my favourite fish- Salmon. A Balsamic-Blueberry reduction. Or a sauce if you’d like. All you need is 1 cup of fresh or frozen blueberries, and ¾ cup of balsamic vinegar. Now this is quite a bit, so don’t use the most expensive brand in the house. A cheaper version is fine! Put both ingredients in a pot, and once berries have softened squish them down with a wooden spoon and let the liquid reduce to a thick sticky consistency. Pour this atop a piece of perfectly grilled salmon, and serve with something relatively simple, like a fresh green salad and some nutty brown rice. Now I warn you it is rather intense, but for a flavour junkie like me it was perfect.
Another happy holiday feast. Berry Good. 

Cherish every mouthful...

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