Devoting a day to Basil (includes a bonus recipe)

As a retiree, it’s good to have a plan each day.  It’s also good to be able to pivot when plans change.

Yesterday I’d planned to run errands only to be foiled when the team who was to seal my driveway on Saturday instead showed up two days early.  With my car held hostage in the garage, I decided to devote a day to harvesting my basil before the imminent first frost which spells disaster for this tender herb.

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2018 was a banner year for basil.

Surrounded by the sweet fragrance of fresh cut herbal goodness, I set about the tedious task of stemming and picking only the good leaves.

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There’s about 8 cups of basil here. Now what???

Luckily the sheer volume from my harvest inspired my creative side.  First up I made a basil/walnut/parmesano regianno pesto then a beautiful basil oil and basil paste.

Feeling accomplished I quickly realized I’d used only half of the harvest.  I love compound butters (check out my recipe for my Thanksgiving Fresh Picked Herb Compound Butter) so I made a luscious Basil Butter –  add 4 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil to a stick of room temperature butter – blend together (I use a fork).  Place on a piece of plastic wrap, roll into a log shape and refrigerate, that’s it! Easy right?

Still facing down a sizable pile of basil, I decided to make another style pesto with basil/almond/lemon pesto which yielded 2 more jars of basil goodness.

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Realizing that it was nearing dinner time, it made sense to use the remaining basil in some way.  I created a delicious herb-centric pasta dish that was so good I had to share it.

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(Not shown pine nuts and crumbled feta)

Fresh Herb Fusilli

  • 1/2 lb fusilli
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 T chopped red onion
  • red pepper flakes
  • coarse ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 t anchovy paste (optional but highly recommended – this is the salt component)
  • 2 garlic cloves – rough chopped
  • 6 T of chopped mixed herbs (basil, thyme and italian parsley)
  • 1 T pine nuts
  • 1/2 lemon – juiced
  • crumbled feta

Cook the pasta as directed and drain. While the pasta is cooking, heat a large saute pan with a good drizzle of olive oil and add the onion.  Saute for 3-4 minutes, adding the anchovy paste, red pepper flakes and pepper and stir to combine.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the pasta to the saute pan and mix with the onion and garlic.  Add pine nuts and the fresh herbs and stir together for another 1-2 minutes.  Take pan off the heat, drizzle the juice from the lemon over the top.  Serve in a bowl and top with feta.

Morels with Herbed Butternut Sage Pappardelle

Let me start by saying “I LOVE MOREL MUSHROOMS”.

Many years ago I tried morels after Spence returned from a visit to Charlevoix (in northern Michigan) with a paper lunch bag chock full of them. They grew on private wooded property belonging to his friend Don.  I’d only heard of morels but knew they were not to be squandered. I proceeded to prepare scrumptious meals over the following days with this “gift”; we were in foodie heaven.

And I was hooked.

On very rare, random occasions I’ve come across morels since then and always succumb to their allure.  A dear, lifelong friend was coming this past Wednesday for a visit and I was grocery shopping when my eyes locked on two boxes.  They were perfect and they were mine. There was no price – I didn’t care! I now knew what the menu for the following night would be.  After I’d purchased them I texted Jerene to ask “do you like Morels?“. Almost instantly she replied “I love them” (not a surprise as she is a fellow foodie).

My herb garden is bursting and I went foraging to find those which would complement the “recipe” I was formulating.  “Which pasta?” I pondered.  I recalled during my recent visit with her in Grand Rapids, I’d purchased a box of artisan Butternut Sage Pappardelle made at this amazing market that we’d visited. “Perfect!” I thought since I’d already planned to use the gorgeous sage growing on my patio. Funny how a plan comes together right?  Here’s how I prepared it:

Morels with Herbed Butternut Sage Pappardelle     serves 4-6

  • 7 oz Butternut Sage Pappardelle
  • 12 oz morel mushrooms
  • 1 minced shallot
  • fresh chopped herbs – flat leaf parsley, sage, thyme, garlic & regular chives, rosemary
  • really good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T butter
  • 1 – 2 T all purpose flour

It is important to soak the morels in salted water for at least twenty minutes (per Pinterest morels have all these little crevices and tiny insects could be lurking…).   Drain and rinse them thoroughly and place on paper towels in a single layer and let them air dry.

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Morels, one of nature’s special treats

While the morels are drying, all the herbs should be given a fine chop.  I kept them seperated so that I could add pinches as I went along, saving some for garnishing.

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Heat a deep skillet, adding the butter and enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  Add the shallots and saute for about 2 minutes.

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Raise the heat to medium high.  Toss the mushrooms with that little bit of flour, they’ll be coated very lightly.  Add them to the skillet with the shallots.  Move them around as you want them to cook for about six minutes, browning a bit.  Start adding pinches of the various herbs to taste.
While they are cooking, prepare the pasta per the package instructions, drain and drizzle with olive oil, toss in some of the herbs. Add the morels to the pasta, tossing gently.  Garnish with any herbs that remain.  As a special treat, I fried 10 velvety sage leaves in a bit of butter till they begin to crisp and topped the pasta with them.  Serve immediately and bon appetit!

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OMG – so delicious!

I served this meal with a salad of baby spinach, sliced strawberries, dried cherry covered goat cheese, toasted pecans, slivered red onion and avocado chunks, dressed with a White Peach & Strawberry Vinegar, EVOO and a pinch of sea salt.

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As a side dish, I wrapped bundles of 4 asparagus spears with a slice of prosciutto, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon zest and cracked black pepper, roasted at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes.

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Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

I’ve been growing herbs for almost 30 years. For a self-taught “gourmet”, it’s thrilling for me to go into my backyard and pick lush flat leaf parsley, flavorful chives, fragrant rosemary and thyme.  With our recent freezing temps and heavy snowfall, I was certain that I wouldn’t be harvesting herbs for this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. Then we had a thaw and under the weather damaged herbs, I was able to find an ample supply – hooray!

Fresh-Picked Herb Compound Butter

Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Fresh picked herbs & butter (not pictured crack black pepper)
Start with 2 sticks of very soft butter (I use salted butter), add  1 generous tablespoon each of chopped flat-leaf parsley, thyme & rosemary, 1 teaspoon of chopped garlic chives and 1-2 teaspoons of cracked black pepper.  Stir together with a dinner fork.  Cover and store in a cool (not cold place) until ready for use.

As we speak, it’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and I just prepared mine. Making ahead allows the herbs to really flavor the butter. While there are many uses for compound butters, I’ll use this one after gently loosening the skin of the turkey breast then taking gobs of it, massaging and slathering it between the skin and the turkey.  As it roasts in the oven, the herb butter self-bastes the turkey.  Enjoy!

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash with Goat Cheese

With the bounty of fresh produce from farmer’s markets and gardens, veggies are plentiful this summer. Recently, using a summer squash, zucchini and some imagination, I came up with this recipe and may I say – it was fabulous. The combination of fresh herbs, grilled squash, sweet sautéed onion, creamy goat cheese and a burst of fresh lemon make this a new favorite for Spence and I.

Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash with Goat Cheese

Weight Watchers Smart Points 3*

  • Zucchini
  • Summer Squash
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Garlic Seasoning (I love Melting Pot’s Garlic & Wine Seasoning)
  • Coconut Oil

Step One: Slice the squash into 1/2-inch “planks” (on the diagonal). Lay the planks on a paper towel, season with salt, pepper and garlic seasoning on one side. Brush a grill pan generously with coconut oil and bring to a searing heat. Place the planks on the grill pan, flipping only one time after 2-3 minutes (you’ll see grill marks). Allow another 2-3 minutes of grill time, remove and place the planks into a baking dish in a single layer.

  • Diced Sweet Onion
  • Butter

Step Two: Saute the onion in butter on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes. Top the squash with the onions.

  • Fresh Herbs: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme & Chives – chopped together
  • Goat Cheese
  • Lemon Wedge
  • Red Pepper Flakes
Just before baking.....
Just before baking…..

Step 3: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Top the squash with chopped herbs, followed by crumbled goat cheese. Squeeze fresh lemon over the top. Bake for 10 minutes – just to soften the goat cheese. Top with red pepper flakes and serve.

Note from Spence’s Girl: I purposely left the recipe without quantities as you can adjust based on how many servings you’d like. If you don’t have access to these exact herbs, use what you have – basil, oregano, tarragon – have fun with it. While not vegan, this would be a lovely vegetarian entree.  

* To calculate the Weight Watchers Smart Points, I used 1 oz of goat cheese and 1/2 tablespoon of butter, based on 2 servings.