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One of my most favorite herbs is basil.
This pungent relative of mint has been around for a long, long time. Greek physician and botanist Chrysippus said it was one of his favorite herbs too, in 400 B.C.!
Way back then it was enjoyed by Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and East Indians. It eventually made its way into France and England in the Middle Ages.
Basil, fresh or dried, is not only very tasty, it is good for us too. Substances in basil can calm your stomach and play a role in preventing cancer — but, it doesn’t end there.
It is a rich source of antioxidants, which fight off the free radicals that can cause heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
Fresh basil, an annual, is easy to grow. A pot can prosper outside from spring to early autumn, then bring it inside during cold weather.
When you buy dried basil (a staple in many kitchens, including mine), make sure it is organically grown. Some basil is irradiated, which can reduce the antioxidants.
Basil is especially delicious when combined with garlic, like in pesto.
Old What’s His Name loves pesto, and always likes to give me a kiss after eats it.
Pastore Pie Toscana
Preparation time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
2 cups mashed potatoes, prepared and set aside*
1/4 pound Italian sausage
3/4 pound lean ground beef
3 tablespoons cornmeal
Olive oil spray
1 cup minced onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1 cup zucchini, sliced
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 cups sliced mushroom
1 Roma tomato
1/4 cup sliced black olives
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup minced green onion
2 garlic cloves, crushed, or 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 recipe Sherried Marinara Sauce (see recipe)
Spray a 9-inch round casserole dish with pan spray and sprinkle with cornmeal. Preheat oven to 450 (425 convection). Mix the sausage and beef together and pat into the prepared pan, forming a large patty and leaving 1 inch from sides of pan. Bake meat for 30 minutes (24 minutes convection). Let cool or cover and refrigerate up to one day ahead. Saute the onion over medium heat. Add the wine after 2 to 3 minutes. Peel and crush the garlic and add it with the green pepper and zucchini. Stir and cook until the wine has evaporated. Add the mushrooms, tomatoes, olives and seasonings.
Spoon over the meat to 1 inch of the edges. Cover evenly with the potatoes and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake uncovered at 350 for 30 to 35 minutes (convection 325 minutes for 24 to 30 minutes) or until slightly browned. Slice into six wedges and remove from pan onto plates with a spatula. Serve with Sherried Marinara Sauce, if desired.
Sherried Marinara Sauce:
In a small microwaveable bowl, combine 1 cup no-salt-added tomato sauce with 1/4 teaspoon each garlic powder, dried oregano, dried basil and 2 tablespoons dry sherry. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave until heated through.
* Instant mashed potatoes may be used. Try the garlic flavor for this dish, or add some garlic to the plain potatoes.
Per serving: 347 calories; 21g Fat; 20 carbohydrates; 458mg sodium
Artichoke Lemon Pesto
Preparation time: 20 minutes
1 cup frozen artichoke hearts, cooked, cooled and well-drained
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest (grated peel)
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 green onion, chopped
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/8 teaspoon salt, optional
1/4 cup water, as needed for consistency
Place all ingredients, except water, into a food processor and process until coarsely pureed, or as smooth as desired. Add water for desired consistency. Pile into a microwaveable dish and heat on 50 percent power until just warm. Serve with crackers, chunks of French bread or crudite, or toss with hot cooked pasta, about 8 ounces, and have a quick dinner for four. Pesto can be frozen.
Per serving: 37 calories; 2g fat; 2g carbohydrates; 67mg sodium
Preparation time: 1 hour
3 quarts water
4 medium red potatoes, diced
1 medium onion, diced
6 carrots, diced
1 package frozen green beans, French cut, chopped
1 can white beans (16-ounce, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup linguine broken into 2-inch pieces
1 slice stale bread, crumbled
3/4 cup pesto sauce, prepared
6 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, for garnish
Simmer potatoes, onions and carrots in water for about 30 minutes. Add green beans and white beans, pasta and bread crumbs. Cook for about 15 minutes. While soup is cooking, mix the prepared pesto with the tomato paste. Stir 1 cup of the hot soup into the tomato pesto mixture and then back into the soup pot. Simmer for 2 minutes. Serve in shallow soup bowls. Pass Parmesan cheese for topping.
Serving ideas: Meat turnovers or calzone make this a hearty meal.
Notes: This is a slimmed down and quicker version of a Julia Child’s recipe. Tastes great!
Per serving: 276 calories; 13g fat; 31g carbohydrates