How to use a bunch of basil

Photo by Monica Herndon, Tampa Bay Times

Photo by Monica Herndon, Tampa Bay Times

Last night, my husband walked into the kitchen from the backyard with an arm full of basil. He plopped it on the kitchen counter, where it sat bright green and super fragrant, taking up almost the entire counter.

We have had this "problem" for years now, ever since we started growing basil in the small backyard of the first place we ever lived together. Basil grows like crazy. If you think you can't grow things (it me), buy a basil plant and water it every once in a while and it will flourish. But then it keeps flourishing. Until you have enough to line your entire kitchen counter. 

So I decided that instead of freezing it or putting it in the fridge then forgetting about it till it turns brown, I should figure out a way to smartly use it up. 

Truth time: Basil is not my favorite herb. That would be mint, or even parsley, both of which I could use daily to brighten lots of dishes. But while basil is perfect for some things, it's overpowering and kind of in your face. So you need a solid game plan for how to get the most out of your garden bounty. Here are three ideas. 

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Make pesto

Why don't I make pesto all the time?, I wonder every time I make pesto. If you have a food processor, it's so easy, and it's a perfect addition to any sort of pasta, pizza, or even atop roasted vegetables. To make, pack about 4 handfuls fresh basil leaves, salt and pepper to taste, 1/2 cup pine nuts,  1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and 2 garlic cloves in a food processor. Blend until it begins to form a paste, then slowly add 1/3 cup olive oil until it becomes looser and starts to look pesto-y. Taste it; it probably needs more salt. Season and then serve, or refrigerate for a week.

Mix it with fruit

Basil's floral, herby qualities pair really well with fruit, especially stone fruit like peaches and plums. Raspberries also work well. Using whatever you have on hand, chop up about 1/2 cup basil, and mix with 2 cups sliced fruit. Top with a splash of olive oil, a drizzle of honey, and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Stir, and keep in the fridge. Serve on top of chicken or fish, or even with plain Greek yogurt. 

Photo by Monica Herndon, Tampa Bay Times

Photo by Monica Herndon, Tampa Bay Times

Make basil ice cubes

This is my favorite trick for lots of leftover ingredients that you just don't know what to do with. Start by chopping  up your basil into very small pieces (3 to 4 cups), or whiz it in the food processor a couple times. Add it to a bowl, then add enough chicken or vegetable broth to completely cover the basil. Grate or finely chop 3 garlic cloves, and add to bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then mix with your hands till it becomes like a loose paste. Using a spoon, place a large dollop of basil mixture into one cube of an ice cube tray. Repeat until tray is full, then place tray in freezer. Pop out the cubes and add to soups, stews or sauces when you need a bit more flavor.

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