Heavy-duty Basil

A couple of weeks ago we had a bumper crop of fresh basil which came from several plants that grew voluntarily from seeds fallen from one single specimen we bought a year ago. I was looking for a new way to use it – preferably as one of the main ingredients in some dish. Ed the Hubs had already made and frozen a couple batches of pesto, so we didn’t need more of that; we love Caprese Salad, but that doesn’t use enough of the stuff; and I don’t currently have the jars and lids needed for a repeat of the basil jelly I made two or three years ago. Mexican cuisine, my forte, doesn’t really use basil at all, so I was stumped.

Insalata caprese  (Caprese Salad): tomatoes, fresh mozzarela, and basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil. Photo (c) Robin Grose.

Google “basil recipes” and you will have a glimpse into the vast world of pesto that is out there. You will also encounter a whole honkin’ bunch of zucchini (or other vegetable) dishes with basil – all of which are great but which call for, at most, just a few basil leaves. I had huge handfuls of the stuff, and for some reason, I was stressing a little about seeing it go to waste. See, those plants were way overdue for pruning, and pruning basil is important if you want a sturdy, long-producing plant, and it’s too good to throw away and I gotta find a good way to take advantage of it and and and …

Basil jelly, sweet but not dessert-y. Good with cream cheese on crackers, for example. Photo (c) Robin Grose

You get the picture. I needed a recipe that featured a large amount of fresh basil. And I found a somewhat bizarre one: Camilla V. Sauslbury’s Chocolate Basil Cake. It was just weird enough – and called for just enough fresh basil leaves (one whole cup, packed) – that I decided to try it. (Note: For the most part I followed the recipe to the letter, except that, since I don’t have a food processor, I used an electric blender to mix the sugar, the basil, and the water. I also used a 7-by-11-inch Pyrex baking dish instead of a 9-inch round cake pan.)

Chocolate Basil Cake
Chocolate Basil Cake with chocolate sour cream frosting. Photo (c) Robin Grose.

We liked it a lot! So many times weird food is disappointing, but this recipe is a keeper. The basil flavor is quite strong in the raw batter, but of course softens considerably during baking. Still, it is definitely discernable in the final product. It was readily identifiable to Ed (who also knew what was in the cake), and held a lovely mysterious herb-y flavor for the next-door neighbors (who were not in the know). Ed thought the chocolate frosting was wonderful; I cringed, as it made everything way too sweet to be healthful – but deep down inside I was glad I had made the icing. All in all, this is a recipe I will be making again, albeit only very occasionally (due to high number of calories per serving and large amount of basil leaves required).

If you, dear reader, know of another good recipe that calls for large amounts of fresh basil, please share it in a comment. Those plants of will be producing leaves again with a vengeance after the pruning they just got!



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