I simply adore basil—the taste, the aroma, even how the plant's leaves look, so plush and wide and green. In the summer, I can hardly get enough of the stuff. It goes in the Thai stir-fry that my husband Todd makes, in a simple-syrup added to lemonade or lemon sorbet, in caprese salad, and (of course) in homemade pesto.
Luckily, my 5-year-old daughter Thalia also gives a thumbs-up to basil—especially in pesto. (We started her on garlic very early.) So I didn't feel like I was stealing valuable real estate in her garden when I added several basil plants to the plan.
I'll admit, I may have gone a little overboard: We planted three sweet basil plants (the standby), one cinnamon basil, one Thai basil, and one spicy globe basil—and all of them are coming along nicely now that we're finally getting some heat around here. (Basil is definitely a warm season crop. )
Last week I saw fit to make my inaugural batch of pesto for the 2013 summer season, and naturally, I invited Thalia to help. She wasn't terribly interested at first, but when she saw that it would involve the food processor—electrical equipment!—she quickly pulled over a chair.
While there are lots of wonderful pesto recipes out there, I use a simple, classic one from the Joy of Cooking tome given to me by my mother many years ago. It's traditionally served on pasta, but you can use it in lots of other ways. Personally, I love it as a condiment on sandwiches, and I thought Thalia might dig that, too.
I measured out a couple of loosely-packed cups of basil, a half-cup of Parmesan cheese, and a third-cup of pine nuts, then let Thalia dump those into the food processor along with two or three pressed garlic cloves. She hit the "on" switch and in seconds we had the rough paste that serves as the base of the recipe.
Then I measured out a half-cup of olive oil and asked Thalia to very slowly pour it through a tiny hole in the lid of the processor bowl as I ran it again. This is a perfect task to give a child her age: Her motor skills have progressed enough that she can handle the pouring, and I think she loved the challenge of trying to get the oil through that small opening. In seconds, we had our finished pesto. She took a finger-full and proclaimed it yummy.
The sandwiches we assembled soon afterward were simply divine. While Todd grilled chicken breasts he'd marinated in lemon, rosemary, and olive oil, I grilled thick slices of Tuscan bread that I'd slathered with the pesto and some goat cheese. When the chicken was done, Todd sliced it very thinly, and we added piles of it to the grilled bread, along with finely sliced tomato.
Seriously, these were possibly the best sandwiches we've made, ever. Thalia did complain a tiny bit that the bread was "too crunchy," but she ate her sammy pretty well. And I'm looking forward to having her help me create lots of other basil-y dishes as the summer rolls on. Now let's see what we can use that cinnamon basil for...
by Susannah Felts