Friday, January 21, 2011

Basil Paste

 Recipe from: The Washington Post, August 25, 2010

This is the aromatic paste that herbalist Susan Belsinger makes and freezes most often. Rather than freezing pesto, make the basic basil paste and the add the rest of the ingredients when you are ready to prepare pesto, which yields much better flavor and texture. The other ingredients in pesto -- garlic, pine nutes, and Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano -- do not benefit from freezing.

Small amounts of other herbs such as marjoram or oregano can be added to these blends when you plan to use thme in cooked dishes other than pesto.

Herb pastes are best frozen in fairly small, tightly sealed containers or in plastic food storage bags. Be sure to label the bags of herb paste, as they tend to look the same when frozen. Stack them in the freezer, and when you want some for a tomato sauce or minestrone, just break off a chunk and drop it into the pot.

MAKE AHEAD: Refrigerate the paste for several days, or freeze for up to 9 months.

Makes 1 cup

4 cups Italian basil leaves (1 large bunch from the farmers market, or about 4 ounces, stemmed), washed and dred
1/4/ to 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place the basil leaves in the bowl of a food processor. Drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Pulse, then process until finely chopped to form a paste, adding a little more olive oil as needed so the paste is barely covered with oil.

Transfer to a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and drizzle with oil to barely cover the top. Or tranfer 1/2 to 1 cup of the paste to a heavy-duty freezer-safe resealable plastic storage bag, pressing the paste until it's flattened and removing the extra air, and then seal and freeze.

VARIATION: To make sweet aromatic herbal pastes for baked goods, use the same ratio for these pastes as for the basil paste: about 4 cups of herb leaves to about 1/4 to 1/3 cup of oil. Use other herbs that don't keep their same bright flavor when dried such as the mints, lemon basil, lemon balm or lemon verbena, monarda and anise hyssop, and use cold-pressed nut or seed oils. Be sure to label the containers.

When adding these pastes to a batter or dough, take what you need out of the freezer and let it sit on the counter for about 5 minutes, until it softens slightly  and can be mixed in easily. For a pound cake, loaf of bread or a pan of brownies, use about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of herbal paste; for a batch of cookies, scones or muffins, add about 1/4 cup.

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