April is Homegrown Month at Tasting Table.
You probably have some leftover basil kicking around your refrigerator right now. Yes, you could make pesto, but there's only so much pesto a person can eat before calling uncle. Fortunately, there are plenty of other interesting ways to use up the leafy herb—everything from adding it to your lemonade to your ice cream. Here's how.
Vinegar and Shrubs
Don't stop at making infused oils with your leftover herbs. Infuse your favorite vinegars with basil as well. To make a straight-up infused vinegar, simply add a few sprigs to a container of balsamic or white wine vinegar. If you want to take your infusions to the next level, try making a shrub, a vinegar-based drink that was originally invented to help preserve fruit. Michael Dietsch, author of Shrubs: An Old-Fashioned Drink for Modern Times, recommends combining basil with stone fruits, berries or melon. And though you can mix the basil in with the fruit and sugar while it's macerating overnight, you'll get a brighter flavor if you add it to the vinegar for the same amount of time instead.
Basil varieties go way beyond what you see on a caprese salad, and some of the lesser-known types are an integral part of Thai cuisine. Andy Ricker of Pok Pok explains that basil and Thai basil work best with green curry, where they add a deeply fragrant quality. "The trick is to put the basil into the curry after you've removed it from the heat and right before you serve it," Ricker says. "If the leaves are boiled in the curry, they lose their aromatics."
Lemonade is the quintessential summer drink, but giving it a more complex flavor is the true sign of a more refined palate. Next time you're making a pitcher for alfresco enjoyment, add a few fresh basil leaves to the mix. To make a 21-and-over version, shake limoncello, basil and ice in a cocktail shaker and then top with lemon sparkling water. More of a beer drinker? Adding basil leaves to your favorite summer shandy will forever change the way you drink them.
The best thing about compound herb butter? It's ridiculously simple to make. Finely chop your leftover basil, making sure to remove the stems. (You'll need only about one tablespoon chopped per quarter-pound stick of softened butter unless you like your butter especially herbaceous.) After you've mashed together the butter and basil, form it into a log and store it tightly wrapped in wax paper or plastic wrap for a few weeks. Stephen Orr, author of The New American Herbal, cautions that basil will blacken easily after it's cut, so it's best to chop it right before you add it to the butter. And if you have only unsalted butter, Orr recommends adding a pinch of sea salt to enhance the flavor throughout.
Herbalize Ice Cream
You might not know it, but basil and mint are actually related, which means they play well together and can even be swapped in some recipes. Ashley Rodriguez, author of Date Night In: More than 120 Recipes to Nourish Your Relationship, loves using basil in a slightly more herbaceous version of classic mint chocolate chip ice cream. To make this refreshing treat, simply substitute half the amount of mint your recipe calls for with basil and prepare to have your mind (and palate) blown.
Kick Up Corn Bread
Jalapeño corn bread is delicious but not always right for pairing with the rest of your meal. But that doesn't mean you have to go all plain Jane—basil is a lovely addition to liven up the classic quick bread. Use your favorite cornbread recipe and add a quarter to a third of a cup of coarsely chopped basil to the batter right before you pour it into the pan to bake. Serve it with the aforementioned basil compound butter for a double dose of herbal flavor.
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