I have a LOVE-HATE relationship with basil.
LOVE – because it’s my all-time favourite herb, whose sweet scent and peppery taste I can never grow tired of.
And LOVE – because whether its Genovese basil or Thai, lemon basil or purple, it thrives in my patio pots all through the Calgary summer.
But HATE – because no matter what I do – water more, water less, choose a sunny spot, or not – I cannot keep its glossy leaves alive through the winter.
And HATE – because when I buy it in those plastic packets from the store, I use a little for a single meal and the remainder plummets toward an all-too-rapid demise in my fridge.
There’s some lurking in there now.
It arrived at my house a few days ago. Served its duty in a lively Thai chicken stirfry. And now sits there, taunting me.
Storage is key, I know, for all herbs – but particularly for oh-so-tender basil. When I spot it in the grocery store with roots intact, it always follows me home – where it stays happy in a tiny juice glass of oft-replenished water, a green bouquet on my kitchen counter, for more than a week. (Or so I surmise – the irony of its constant visual presence means it disappears at a meteoric rate).
Not so much in a plastic coffer.
Other herbs, like mint, thyme and rosemary, lend themselves to simple drying. Basil tends to go black unless it’s dried in the oven – and the resulting product loses everything I like about basil’s incomparable flavour.
I can’t pop it in the freezer (like I do with so many of my leftovers quandaries) unless it’s pureed with a bit of oil. But then I’m likely to mix it up with the cubes of green adobo sauce that I keep there – and THAT can lead to some unpleasant surprises. (I’m not a great labeller of freezer items).
A few years ago, Chef Patrick Dunn of InterCourse Chef Services introduced me to a slick trick. He’d had great success storing his basil and other herbs in a sealed container with a whole raw egg. The semi-permeable shell apparently allows excess moisture to be absorbed into the egg, and herbs stay crisp and fresh for two weeks.
Incidentally, the egg absorbs some of the herb colour and fragrance, as well – but this offers possibilities for delighting the Dr. Seuss fans in your house (and aren’t we all Dr. Seuss fans at heart?).
I’ve never tried Dunn’s technique.
I could whip up a little pesto in the blender – but my fridge already harbours half a jar of commercial pesto that was bought in a time crisis.
I could toss the basil into salads, tuck it into sandwiches – always a bitey enhancement – but its leaves are already drooping in a texturally-unpleasant way.
Friends tell me to stir it into whatever pasta dish I’m preparing. I cook pasta maybe four times a year.
Meanwhile, the basil quick-marches toward imminent death, a prospect that just might drive me to drink.
But perhaps therein lies the answer. My current favourite cocktail features a basil simple syrup. Shaken with Canadian whisky, lemon juice, and egg white, and topped with a splash of red wine, it becomes a mouth-puckering and eye-pleasing November Sky. It’s essentially an amped-up whisky sour created by Aileen Shipley at Cirque Restaurant in Fernie’s Lizard Creek Lodge – and I’m forever grateful for her ingenuity.
The simple syrup is probably its most luscious when the basil is fresher – but when everything’s all in, I doubt my tongue will be able to tell.
Think I’ll go conjure up some now.
2 oz Crown Royal
1 oz lemon juice
1/2 oz basil simple syrup (recipe below)
1 egg white
1/2 oz dry red wine
Garnish: 2 skewered brandied cherries (or red grapes)
In a cocktail shaker combine Crown Royal, lemon juice, basil syrup and egg white.
Dry shake. Add ice and shake again.
Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
Float red wine on top, and garnish with brandied cherries.
2 cups water
2 cups sugar
Generous handful of basil, rinsed
Combine water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until sugar is dissolved.
Add basil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Remove from heat and let steep until desired basil flavour is reached.
Strain out basil and store syrup in the fridge for up to a month.
Shared with permission from Cirque Restaurant at Lizard Creek Lodge (slopeside at Fernie Alpine Resort).
Text and photos © 2018 Catherine Van Brunschot