basil

Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

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It’s June! This is my absolute favorite month of the year. Beautiful weather, an open pool, baseball, strawberries, birthdays… oh the birthdays. More on that soon.

Not long after my last post, a professional opportunity presented itself that I simply could not turn down. The Gatsby and I packed up the Jeep and drove to Nebraska for a 7-week adventure (or, in The Gatsby’s case, a 7-week vacation at Grandpa’s house). There was some cooking, but mostly working and eating, little recipe-testing, and no blogging.

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The Gatsby spent part of our drive on my lap.

We’ve been back in Virginia for about two weeks and are settling in nicely after a lovely and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. I’m back at the gym, and I’ve been to the pool six times already. And I made these delicious shortcakes for an office shindig.

I LOVE whipped cream infused with herbs such as basil or mint. It’s unexpected and fun, and just a bit fancy without being over the top. These were easy to bring to the office. The night before, I infused the cream and made the shortcakes. In the morning, I whipped the cream and packed up the container along with a package of strawberries, the shortcakes, a few basil leaves, and a paring knife. At party time, I sliced the berries and set up a make-your-own assembly line.

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Strawberry Shortcakes with Basil-Infused Whipped Cream

Shortcakes from Bon Appetit
Serves 8

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
15 large basil leaves, plus small or torn leaves
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups flour
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 lb strawberries, sliced

Infuse the cream: Bring 1 1/2 cups cream to a gentle simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bruise large basil leaves by hitting repeatedly with the dull side of a knife; stir into cream. Remove from heat, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let steep for 25 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a mixing bowl, pressing solids to extract liquid. Refrigerate until very cold, at least 5 hours.

Make the shortcakes: Preheat oven to 400°. Whisk sugar, baking powder, salt, and flour in a large bowl. Using your fingers, work in butter until the texture of coarse meal with some pea-sized pieces of butter remaining. Add remaining 1 cup cream and mix until dough just comes together (it will be sticky). Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and pat into a rectangle, about 12 x 4″, 3/4″ thick. Cut rounds using a 2 1/2″ biscuit cutter, re-rolling scraps to make 8 rounds. Transfer cakes to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Whisk egg and water in a small bowl. Brush tops of cakes with egg wash. Bake until tops are golden brown, 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Make ahead: Shortcakes are best served fresh but can be made up to 2 days ahead of time.

Assemble: Beat the basil-infused cream and powdered sugar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Split shortcakes and fill with berries and whipped cream. Top with additional whipped cream and basil leaves.

Suggestions and alternatives:
If you like your strawberries saucy, increase to 1 1/4 pounds berries and toss with 1/4 cup sugar (and a few torn basil leaves if you like). Macerate for an hour or more, tossing occasionally.

Substitute angel food cake for the shortcakes. If you’re grilling out, try lightly grilling slices of angel food cake before serving.

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Fusilli with Raw Tomato Sauce

With all due respect to my tomato-loving friends, I just can’t eat raw tomatoes. They’re squishy and gooey (and NOT in a good way). Or, so I thought.

When I received this month’s issue of Bon Appetit, one of the first things that caught my eye was a feature story about a summer vacation in Tuscany, including a gorgeous photo of a pasta dish with a no-cook tomato sauce.

We’ll get there in a minute. But first, can we talk about how much we Americans could learn from the Italians about how to vacation? When I traveled through New Zealand, it was painfully obvious just how much I had to learn about vacation, including the fact that it’s a verb. I think my next lesson on how to properly vacation should come in Tuscany. Preferably from a hot Italian man.

The author describes a month-long vacation in the Tuscan hills, complete with sunny 90-degree days and bottomless glasses of prosecco, concluding with this gem: “As it often does, lunch will meander for a good hour or two, ending with figs from the tree. And then, of course, it’s time for that nap. Or maybe a dip in the pool.”

Yep… definitely practicing my vacation skills in Italy.

Anyway, back to that pasta. It couldn’t be simpler: good-quality olive oil and vinegar, tomatoes, fresh basil, salt and pepper. Always buy the best quality ingredients you can afford, but especially for simple recipes with few ingredients.

I cut the recipe in half. Forgive me. For me, pasta is best as an occasional indulgence rather than a diet staple, and I was trying a food I don’t typically like, after all. A week later, I found myself back at the market, making another batch.

If only I’d picked up another bottle of prosecco.

Fusilli with Raw Tomato Sauce

From Bon Appetit, August 2012

3/4 cup (or more) extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
4 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved, pulp discarded, flesh cut into 3/4″ pieces
3/4 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves, torn
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound fusilli or other spiral-shaped or twisted pasta

Whisk 3/4 cup oil and both vinegars in a large bowl to blend. Add chopped tomatoes. Using a potato masher or your hands, slightly crush tomatoes to bruise and release juices. Stir in basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover bowl and let tomatoes marinate at room temperature for 1 hour to allow flavors to develop.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain; return pasta to pot and add to tomato mixture; stir to evenly incorporate. Let pasta stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes to allow pasta to absorb flavors from sauce. Season pasta to taste with salt and pepper and drizzle with more oil, if desired.