When my herb garden begins to yield bunches of fragrant and delicious sweet basil, I know it’s time to prepare one of my favorite summertime meals. With this lovely herb as the centerpiece, I created a wonderful -yet simple- meal that you may want to try sometime soon. Not surprisingly, I also have a few wine suggestions for these basil-infused dishes. So here goes. Many folks use basil as a seasoning for salads and one of my favorites is an old family recipe. Today, I’ll provide you with this salad recipe and also with one of my favorite summertime culinary masterpieces: pesto pasta.
First the salad.
1. Start with six or so sweet and ripe tomatoes which should be cut into one-inch wedges.
2. Prepare the basil: I had picked a small basket full of basil leaves, being careful to snip the larger of them with my fingers at the base of the plant in order to insure continued growth. (You can buy basil at most grocery stores, but it’s a lot cheaper to grow your own.)
3. Next, finely mince one garlic clove, chop one medium-sized sweet onion into one-inch pieces and add this to the tomatoes. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste) to the tomatoes and onions and then pour about three ounces of extra virgin olive oil to the dish. Now take a hand-full of sweet basil and chop it into small pieces and add this to the mixture. If you have fresh oregano, put the leaves from one sprig into the salad.
4. If you like a touch of heat, slice a hot banana pepper in half and cut it into small pieces, adding this to the tomato salad. This is optional, but I love the piquancy of the pepper and the flavor it gives to the salad. (Incidentally, I do not recommend using vinegar since the tomatoes usually provide sufficient acidic balance to the salad.)
5. At this point, allow the salad to sit at room temperature for at least one-hour, stirring it occasionally. Then taste it and make final adjustments (salt, garlic, etc.). It is now ready.
Now for the pesto:
1. Take two handfuls of basil, wash and pat dry with a paper towel. In a food processor, put the basil, five or six medium garlic cloves, six to eight ounces of extra virgin olive oil, salt, freshly ground black pepper and one-cup of freshly grated mild parmesan cheese ( I prefer to use Parmigiano Reggiano, but it’s expensive). Blend until the consistency is very smooth and taste to adjust for salt and garlic (is there ever enough garlic?).
2. Next, put a handful pine nuts in a small sauté pan and stir till slightly brown over medium heat and add to the mixture.
3. Now add one pound of cappellini or angel hair pasta to boiling, salted water and cook till the pasta is slightly firm (usually about three to five minutes). Put the pasta in a colander, drain it and then add it to a bowl. Pour the pesto mixture over the pasta and blend the ingredients. Dinner is ready!
Serve the tomato salad in bowls (because it will have made a large amount of juice). At the same time, serve the pesto pasta on plates and add a little more freshly grated cheese. You will need at least one loaf of crusty bread (Ciabatta or other crusty bread from the Charleston Bread Company would be excellent), especially to dip into the tomato/basil salad.
WINE SUGGESTION: This meal demands sauvignon blanc where the herbal components in the wine will marry nicely with the pesto and tomato salad. Try sauvignon blanc from producers such as Dry Creek, Nobilo, Kenwood or Kim Crawford (all under $17 a bottle).