Basil has a very distinctive smell. At the checkout counter it never gets mistaken for cilantro or flat leaf parsley. Like many people, I love it, but there was a period of about 2 months that I really couldn’t tolerate it at all. I was almost seven months pregnant and twice a week I drove for about an hour down a windy mountain road to take classes at a local junior college. Around the bottom of the mountains nestled farms that grew apricots, avocados, grapefruit, oranges, cabbages, and lettuces. Driving along through the fields of vegetables or orchards of trees on both sides of the road was very pleasant. The trees were laden with fruit, the occasional hawk perched on a fence, and when the trees were in bloom the smell was fantastic. I would roll down the windows and breathe deeply. That changed in early spring when they planted basil. The smell became so strong that it made me nauseous. I started to dread that part of the journey but there was no alternative route, and I wanted to finish these classes. After all I had a major deadline. I tried rolling up the windows, holding my breath, or distracting myself with music or books on tape. Pushing my old VW squareback past the fields as fast it would go with music blaring seemed to work the best. One morning just as I got to the bottom of the mountain, I heard a huge clunk as the rear axle hit the road, and I watched the back wheel of my car race past me heading down the road. I skidded to a stop. We found the runaway wheel more than a block away. After inspecting the back end of the car, the tow truck driver asked if I had heard anything before the wheel rolled past me. I shook my head. When he put the key in the ignition the music was deafening; I didn’t say anything, his look said it all. Luckily for me the basil was harvested the following week.
This is a summer recipe. Great for a party—you can double the ingredients easily. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes in the morning to gather the ingredients in a bowl. Then push it to the back of the countertop and let it sit while you get on with your day. In the evening cook the pasta for ten minutes or so and voilà! No oven involved and the stove only has to be on long enough to cook the pasta. Once it is cooked you toss it in a bowl with the room-temperature sauce and it just melts together. The smell of basil and garlic is mouthwatering. Everyone is marveling at you thinking you slaved all day over this dish.
The original recipe say to prepare the sauce two hours before, but I find that if I make it in the morning and leave it on the counter with a plate over it the flavors are more developed.
Also, I love garlic—but not raw. Since the sauce for this recipe isn’t cooked, I use roasted garlic oil( recipe below). You still get the flavor of the garlic but when it roasts in oil, it sweetens and mellows, I keep a jar on the door of my fridge at all times. It lasts forever and I find that I use it more and more on roasted veggies, salad dressings, or other pasta sauces. I encourage you to give it a try; you won’t be sorry.
adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook
6 medium sized tomatoes cut into ½-¾ inch chunks
1/2 cup olive oil
8 oz brie—cut off rind
½ cup basil leaves cut into ribbons (make sure they are dry or the oil won’t stick)
4 small cloves of minced garlic or 1 teaspoon of roasted garlic oil (recipe to follow)
I package of linguine (1lb)
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large bowl place the tomatoes, olive oil, brie (torn into pieces), basil ribbons, garlic, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a couple grinds of pepper. Mix to incorporate and then leave the bowl on the counter with a plate over it to macerate. (See note above.)
Bring a large pot to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. You want the pasta to be tender but still have a bit of tooth . While the pasta is cooking taste the sauce. Add more salt or pepper if needed. When the pasta is ready, quickly drain and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.
Roasted Garlic Oil
2 heads of garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
1 ½ cups of olive oil
½ teaspoon of salt
Preheat oven 325°
Place garlic cloves in a glass baking dish along with oil and salt, covering the garlic with oil. Depending on the size of your dish you might need a bit more oil. Bake about 30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes or so. You want the garlic to be golden but not brown.
Pour off ¾ cup of the oil and save. This garlic-flavored oil can be used in many dishes, like salad dressing or over a mound of hummus.
Place the rest of the garlic along with the oil in a food processor and pulse 6 or 7 times until the garlic is a paste. Scoop the mixture into a jar and keep in the fridge. I use it for this recipe, roasted vegetables, pasta sauce, brushed over salmon, shrimp, burgers, or lamb chops. For any dish that I would usually add garlic to I use this garlic oil. It lasts for months.
Written by: Claudia Alexander