01 October 2007

Basil harvest 2007

Throughout the summer, I’ve written about the fresh herbs I’ve been harvesting from my garden. I have so many trees in my backyard, that I don’t really have a good place for a vegetable garden. But I can strategically plant a few plants of herbs in small plots that do get enough sun to thrive. I’ve got chives, oregano, mint, sage, and tarragon that come back every year. I also grow rosemary, parsley, thyme, and basil, which I plant fresh each year.

As the weather begins to turn cool in September, it seems like the herbs take on a heightened level of flavor and aroma. It’s like the plants anticipate the coming frost and in the face of impending doom, they decide to meet their fate just bursting with flavor.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to harvest a bunch of my basil and capture the flavors at their peak. To be honest, I waited a bit too long. The flavors were still wonderful, but some of the leaves had already started to get brown spots and to lose their intense green color.

I made two batches of pesto. The first was a walnut-basil pesto; I froze that batch. The second was a parsley-basil pesto with pine nuts. That evening, I made a pizza with pesto, black olives, and parmesan cheese.

We had a party coming up, and I decided to use some of the pesto to make an appetizer tart. For the crust, I used a technique from another tart recipe that I had. I took a sheet of store-bought puff pastry. I cut it in have to for two long, narrow strips. Then I rolled each piece into a 5x14-inch strip. Then I rolled up about a quarter-inch of the edge all around each strip. I brushed the bottom with beaten egg and pierced the bottom all over with a fork. Then I baked it at 400 degrees until it was golden. Even though I had pierced the bottom, it still puffed up, but the recipe said to just gently press down the bottom to form a crust for the tart.

To finish the tart, I spread pesto over the bottom of the crust. Next I arranged quartered pieces of artichoke hearts over the pesto and pieces of roasted tomatoes. I used a recipe that I learned from my sister. You could use sun-dried tomatoes instead – either oil-packed or dried tomatoes that have been soaked in boiling water for several minutes until they soften. Finally, I spread freshly-grated parmesan over the tomatoes and artichokes.

I put it into the oven, still at 400 degrees, until the cheese was melted and the filling was hot. I baked the tarts about 20 minutes before the party and let them cool. To serve, we cut the tarts into inch-wide strips. I thought they turned out nicely. (When our guests arrived, the tarts disappeared pretty quickly.) However, they were not quite firm enough for finger food. They would have been easier to eat on a plate with a fork.

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