No matter how far removed we think we are from the farm (and I admit I'm not all that far removed), Saskatchewan people still scurry like squirrels at the first sign of frost. Tonight is the night. It's midnight, and the thermometer reads 3.4 degrees Celsius. Our neighbours came home from the lake a day early; my dad was in the city but rushing home to help my mom pick vegetables; my grandfather and my uncle were picking corn, cucumbers and amaranth; my cousin was also rushing home to instruct her husband on what parts of the garden needed to be covered; I was outside just before dark, picking basil and gathering the remainder of my meagre harvest: 4 yellow zucchini, 15 beans, 1 tiny Armenian cucumber (the only one my sad little plants produced), 7 red and 12 green tomatoes.
For me, the basil is the precious commodity. I preserve as much of it as I can to offer that taste of summer through the cold months when my only other option is to hope they stock it at the supermarket. And that stuff never tastes as good as what I grow. My two favourite basil preservation recipes:
Pesto (from the Lazy Gourmet cookbook—I tend to go back to this one because it makes the basil go a long way. It's a bit more runny than some pestos, but not at all fussy, and has beautiful flavour)
2 c. fresh basil, tightly packed
1 1/2 c. olive oil
1/3 c. pine nuts, toasted
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 t. salt and freshly ground black pepper, combined (I do 1 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper)
1 t. chopped garlic (I just throw in a large, whole garlic clove and let the food processor do the chopping)
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste. Can be refrigerated up to a week or frozen up to 3 months.
I'll be freezing mine.
The remainder of my basil, once I run out of pine nuts and Parmesan to make pesto, is simply processed with a pinch of salt and enough olive oil to make a paste, and then frozen. This is super handy in the middle of winter when a recipe calls for chopped basil. That little patty or ice cube of pureed herb is probably equivalent to a quarter cup of loosely chopped basil, and each time I taste it, I am delighted.
Happy hunkering down for all you foodies preparing for fall. I am already anticipating delicious winter soups and stews. And to those in the southern hemisphere preparing for spring, and those of you in climates where you can pick fresh basil all year round, please don't rub it in.