I do not do well with houseplants. In one corner of my kitchen, a healthy philodendron has hung since we moved in eleven years ago, but my husband tends to it, and that’s the only reason it’s alive. I have a succulent that has, at two years old, outlived every inside plant I’ve ever owned (except for the afore-mentioned philodendron). But I currently have a basil plant on the windowsill above my kitchen sink, and it is thriving. I pluck off big verdant leaves consistently, and it keeps putting on more all while getting taller and bushier. I’ve always loved fresh basil, but now that I’m basically a successful basil farmer, I’m using it in my cooking even more. Here are two great ways to add this aromatic herb and its fresh, peppery, slightly sweet and citrus flavors to your menu.
FRESH BASIL PESTO
You can use pesto from a jar—if it’s all you have on a deserted island, or if after a nuclear apocalypse only you and it survive. These may sound like dire scenarios, but there’s really no other reason to use the jarred stuff. Fresh pesto is easy to make, and it tastes so much better, it is as if it is a wholly different thing.
In saying all this, I’m assuming you’re already a big pesto fan. But if you’re not, let me tell you why you should be:
It’s versatile. Whip up a batch and use it as a base for pizzas, a sauce for pasta, or a delectable dip for good bread.
- It is E-Z. When I said it was simple to prepare, I wasn’t exaggerating. It takes about five minutes and a food processor. The ingredient list is short too; it includes fresh basil, which is readily available in almost any grocery store, and, if you read the intro, you now know that since my black thumbs and I can grow it, anyone can grow it.
- It is yummy. But that should be a given. I don’t write about things that aren’t.
While there are multiple variations on the basil pesto theme, my personal favorite is the classic. Here’s how you do it.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 3 medium sized garlic cloves, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Put the basil and nuts in your food processor and pulse a few times. Then add the garlic and cheese, and pulse a few times more to get a fine chop on all ingredients. Then, with the processor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times to get everything mixed well. Add salt and pepper to taste, and eat up!
BASIL-GARLIC PORK CHOPS
Pork chops take on a variety of flavors with ease, making them a perfect vehicle for a multitude of marinade options. This recipe, courtesy of the National Pork Board, is simple and savory and transports your taste buds straight to the Mediterranean, thanks to the addition of fragrant basil. And did I mention it was simple? In not much more time than it takes to open a pack of hot dogs, you can whip up the marinade and infuse your chops with the essence of lemon, fresh basil, and garlic. A drizzle of balsamic vinegar at the end provides some extra zip.
NOTE: If you’re fearful of grilling pork because you’re nervous that you’ll overcook it, invest in a good meat thermometer. They’re not expensive, and they’ll help you ensure your chops (and any other meats you grill) are cooked to precisely the right temperature. Some models include a wireless gauge that will alert you when they’re done, so no more worrying or constantly checking your watch.
Basil-Garlic Pork Chops
- 4 porterhouse (or other bone-in) pork chops, 3/4-inch thick
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- ½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
- ¼ cup good balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)
Mix together all ingredients except pork chops in a shallow baking dish. Add chops and spread both sides with basil mixture. Let stand 30 minutes in baking dish.
Meanwhile, prepare your grill to medium-high heat (about 450° F), oiling it with a brush or paper towel. Grill chops over direct heat until the internal temperature reaches between 145° F (medium rare) and 160° F (medium), on a meat thermometer, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove chops from the grill and let rest for 3 minutes. Drizzle each with a spoonful of balsamic right before serving.
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