+ MY NEW FEATURED INGREDIENT SERIES
BECAUSE IT’S BASIL SEASON
I’m looking forward to continuing on with my featured ingredient series for the blog, because I was on a roll with it and appreciated the small amount of structure it gave me to let my mind go just wild enough before it reached that dreaded place where it becomes paralyzed with indecision. I’m inspired, thank Goodness. Reminder of the game rules: I make 3+ dishes strung together by one star ingredient that’s in season– and this series is a special one, simply because it is inspired by one of my favorite herbs: basil (I’ll wait while you re-read the name of the blog) But instead of just any basil, I found gorgeously green Thai basil lining the walls at the Asian market, and I got nearly 1lb for a wonderful price. That’s when I decided that it would be the chosen basil for the project. Just wait and watch it transform into some magical stuff in the proceeding week(s) I’m thinking it should stretch the span of 3 delicious recipes, perfectly!
What is the difference between Thai basil, opal basil, and just..well..basil basil?
Cool question. I’m curious too. While they are all fabulous, there are multiple spin offs of regular basil that are cultivated to have different undertones. Sweet basil is the main basil, the one we see most often. It has a soft fragrance that adds a great finish to dishes (pestos, pizzas, and things). Then you have Thai basil, which is slightly spicy, and bold! I love it, and will be using it just like sweet basil in this series. No shame! This variety is usually found in Southeast Asia and in certain dishes to add a nice almost anise-like flavor and spice to help give a powerful aroma. And, I’m also equally obsessed with opal basil, because I’m shallow and flashy sometimes and it mesmerizes me with it’s gorgeous purple hue; however, it’s pretty similar in flavor to the regular sweet basil.
MY DISH: I’m going to start simple for now. No cooking of my basil (although Thai basil can hold up well to heat), because today I want to taste the herb at its root, as is, lots and lots of it, freshly chopped, and thrown into a bright and tangy panzanella aka bread salad. It is the perfect summer salad–it’s substantial but still fresh and refreshing, and this time I even threw in some pulled buffalo mozzarella, because I was feeling extra good.
Panzanella: Is a Tuscan dish (you know how much I love Italy–I think I’m half Italian sometimes) and it originated from the need to get rid of all the day old bread that people had lying around. The stale bread is chopped or torn and tossed together with a light vinaigrette and lots of fresh summer veggies and herbs. And as it soaks up all the juices from the other ingredients, it just gets better and better. In short, it’s a magical dish we get to unfairly call a “salad”, but you don’t see me complaining. It has all of my favorite ingredients.
Here’s how I made it, and it only takes 20 minutes or so:
- 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
- 1 baguette (roughly 3″ by 26 “), cut into bite-sized pieces
- olive oil for drizzling
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup tightly packed fresh chopped basil (about 2 bushels)
- ¼ cup fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
- 2 cloves or garlic, minced
- kernels from 1 ear of raw corn
- ½ cup halved cherry or grape tomatoes
- 1-2 ounces fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese, pulled (optional)
In a small bowl or cup, whisk the red wine vinegar, lime juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add in thinly sliced red onion, being sure to submerge them completely, and allow them to pickle while you toast the bread.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Spread the cubes of bread out onto a sheet tray. Drizzle them with olive oil and season them with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat, and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the bread is crispy and toasted.
Transfer the bread to a large serving bowl, and drizzle over the dressing, holding back the pickled onions for topping later. Toss the bread to coat.
In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped basil, parsley, garlic, tomatoes, corn, and mozzarella, if using.
Add to the serving bowl, and toss with the bread crumbs. Top with the pickled red onion and serve.
Me?: Outside of my emotional revelation last week regarding mediocrity and fear, I’m learning that there is still a learning curve to this whole “BE BOLD, Don’t-give-a-damn-who’s-watching” thing. It’s about training your mind. So in addition to reintroducing physical activity and mediation back into my routine to help ease anxiety and thoughts in general, I’ve been reading an entire book on NLP techniques (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) literally called “The Big Book of NLP Techniques” by Shlomo Vaknin. Please look into NLP if you have issues with overcoming limiting beliefs that you maybe acquired in childhood. I’m on a mission to apply many of these techniques to improve the way I approach the world.
Another gem: I finally got hipped to the the podcast “the Cookbook Deal” by Jessica Murnane (thank you FoodHeavenMadeEasy! for the tip) But where were you Murnane at the beginning of this disaster??! I needed you! If you are in fact writing your first cookbook, listen to this podcast. It’s eerily similar to my own experience, and it may help you navigate the murky waters ahead.