I admit, I’ve been feeling pretty un-creative this month. I love basil, and the two basil plants I have in a pot on my deck are going great guns this summer, so it’s not like I have any shortage in the supply department, but I just made a pesto (albeit a mostly mint one) for last month’s challenge, so the obvious basil recipe was out, even though this time of year (really, any time of year) pesto is something I could eat morning, noon and night.
Part of why I was feeling less than inspired was that I was (and still am) just plain worn out—it’s been godawful hot ’round here lately, and work has been a gut-buster (we just hired a new person, and will have two more new folks coming on soon, so because others are spending all their time training, or being trained, I’m doing the tasks I hate the most, pretty much all day, to pick up the slack). I’m not a big drinker, but I’ve really been craving margaritas, mojitos, or pretty much any summery drink (preferably on a beach far from here, but I’ll settle for a drink on its own).
So what I decided on for my main entry in this month’s Spice Rack Challenge was a basil-infused simple syrup—like the name says, it’s pretty simple, although there are a surprising number of variations on the recipe out there on the internets. The typical instructions, however, are to combine 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. At this point you can add whatever you want to infuse into your syrup—in this case, a generous handful of fresh basil—then simmer gently for awhile. (Sorry I can’t be more specific than “awhile”—the recipe I followed said 5 minutes, but my syrup didn’t seem to have picked up much color or scent after only 5 minutes, so I let it keep simmering, and of course I forgot about it, so I have no idea how long it was on the stovetop. How about we just say “till it looks and smells the way you want it”?) What I ended up with was a greenish-tinged, pleasantly anise-y scented liquid.
When picking out a drink to mix up with my syrup, I decided to keep things simple: basically a gin and tonic, flavored with the basil syrup and a muddled (or perhaps I should more accurately say, brutally attacked with the handle end of a wooden spoon) strawberry. I ended up adding several teaspoons of the syrup (I did say I’m not much of a drinker), far more than the various recipes I consulted asked for, to try to balance out the bitterness of the tonic water, but still I couldn’t taste much basil in it. I think next time I’ll leave out the poor, mangled strawberry (though it did make for a pretty pink cocktail), and maybe add some bruised fresh basil to amp up the basil flavor.
And, since no cocktail hour would be complete without something to nibble on, I whipped up some pesto to go with some of Zingerman’s Creamery’s fresh goat cheese, to schmear on a cracker. Another confession: I really don’t like the barnyard funk of most goat cheese (hopefully this won’t get my foodie cred revoked). But, last year, some friends introduced me to the wonders of really fresh (mostly non-funky) goat cheese, mixed with basil pesto, which complements the cheese perfectly (any goat-y funk somehow melds with the slight muskiness of the pesto), and I’ve been craving it ever since. (If you want to go the super-authentic, only-the-tenderest-baby-basil-leaves-pounded-in-a-mortar route to make your pesto, you can try Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s recipe from “How To Eat Supper”, but this is a simpler version.)
Ahh. I feel more relaxed already…