Dining

Magic Ingredient: Basil

The king of all fresh-grown herbs.

August 2008

Aside from a few early-season vegetables like peas and asparagus, and the fall triumvirate of apples, pumpkins, and pears, the bulk of Colorado's crops are now appearing at a farmers' market near you. In that mosaic of violet eggplants, red tomatoes, and yellow sweet corn, it might be tempting to skip the plain bunches of basil. Grab some anyway. Basil will accent nearly everything else you have in your bag.

Beefsteak tomatoes? They're begging to be layered with basil and fresh mozzarella and drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil. Green beans? Try them boiled until crisp-tender and tossed with parsley, cherry tomatoes, basil, and a light vinaigrette. Other veggies in there, too? Put them on the grill and add them to pasta with pesto, or place them atop homemade pizza sprinkled with more of this versatile herb.

Genovese basil is a common variety, but growers like Julie Wallace of Wallace Farms in Franktown can introduce you to lesser-known types, including lemon, lime, cinnamon, and lettuce (large leaf with a ruffled edge). All basil, whether common or exotic, thrives in warm conditions, so enjoy it now. "Basil can be very sensitive to frost," says Wallace, explaining that as summer progresses and nights grow colder, low temps can stunt basil's growth.

Savor the herb's sweetness with this recipe for roast chicken crostini with fresh basil rémoulade from Sean Huggard, chef at Black Pearl. Huggard recommends serving this for a backyard barbecue with basil juleps (bourbon, basil, sugar, and club soda) and basil martinis (citrus vodka, fresh lemonade, and torn basil leaves).

RECIPE: Roast Chicken Crostini with Fresh Basil Rémoulade

  • 2 ½ cups mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced shallot
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh chervil
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped chives
  • 8 dill pickle chips
  • 1/8 cup capers
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • French baguette, cut into ½-inch slices
  • 2-3 cups cold, shredded roasted chicken (store-bought rotisserie chicken works well)

Blend all ingredients from mayonnaise to capers in a food processor or blender on high until smooth. Fold in basil, add salt and pepper to taste, and chill. Preheat oven to 350°. Brush baguette slices with a little rémoulade. Bake bread slices until golden brown on the edges but soft in the middle, about 7 to 8 minutes. Toss the chicken with ¾ cup of the rémoulade. Evenly distribute the chicken on top of each of the crostini. Garnish the crostini with a small dollop of basil rémoulade, and place remaining basil on top as a garnish. Extra rémoulade can be tossed with any remaining chicken for a zingy chicken salad.