As summer draws to a close, most of us have cleared out our garden beds either to let them rest for the winter months or turn them over for fall...
Summer, sweet summer is finally upon us. My garden has begun to take its shape as the temperatures soar and nature begins to work her magic. My basil plants have exploded seemingly overnight. If I sit quietly and watch, I can almost see them growing. Basil is one of summer’s greatest pleasures – the wonderful simplicity of its peppery, oddly sweet scent - it’s intoxicating aroma announcing that summer has arrived. I wait impatiently until those first tomatoes of the summer are ready to make a caprese salad – the first of the season; that moment when you bite into the sweet juiciness of the tomato from the garden alongside the creaminess of the mozzarella and the sweet, savory taste of the basil. I wonder if nature truly understands the beauty she has created. Such treasures from such humble beginnings!
But for now, I must be content with finding other uses for my fantastically large crop of basil. I will have to occupy my days creating basil-infused olive oils and basil-flecked ice cubes; basil-infused pastas and pesto sauces bright with the taste of this amazing herb. But I am up for the task at hand. And to help me in my work, I can think of no better way to end the day than a basil-infused cocktail.
Whether muddled or minced, fresh basil can totally upgrade your cocktail for the summer. Sure, mint is a thing when it comes to cocktails but why not add the element of surprise with basil? I have included two recipes that are my ‘Summer of 2016’ go to cocktails. Now, these aren’t actually recipes – they are so simple that I hesitate to call them recipes. Please, please, please improvise. Use what floats your summer boat and put your signature on them. Just don’t forget to add that basil to really impress your family and friends!
My standard white sangria goes from super to sublime with the unexpected addition of basil. My sangria concoctions tend to be light on the sugar – so if you’d like a sweeter version, simply double the simple syrup added. You could also toss in some sweet green melon as another addition.
A riff on my favorite Campari spritz cocktail sings summer – fresh strawberry puree mingles in your glass with a bit of chopped basil. And they are so easy to make that I hesitate even calling this a recipe! (By the way, as soon as watermelons are in season, I plan on trying this one with fresh watermelon juice instead of the strawberry puree.)
So give your mint a break and up your game his summer with a sprig of fresh basil added to your next cocktail. Happy Summer! Enjoy!
Basil Strawberry Spritz
•1 pint fresh strawberries, divided
•1 bottle dry white wine
•A few leaves fresh basil, chopped
1. Save a few strawberries from the pint for garnish for the glasses.
2. Clean the remaining strawberries and toss in a blender. Blend until smooth. Pour the strawberry puree into a jar/s. You will have some remaining and will want to save for other uses (or for more cocktails tomorrow!).
3. Place a few tablespoons of the puree into each glass. Pour in about 1 cup of white wine and a few ice cubes. Stir to incorporate.
4. Top with a good splash of club soda, a healthy sprinkle of chopped basil.
5. Slice the reserved strawberries and top each glass. Serve! Salute!
Basil-infused White Sangria
For the simple syrup:
•1/4 cup water
•1/4 cup sugar
For the cocktails:
•About 1 cup white grapes, cut in half
•1 peach, sliced
•1 lime, sliced thinly
•A few sprigs fresh basil
•A few sprigs fresh mint
•1 bottle dry white wine
•1 lime for juicing
•Sparkling water or club soda
•Additional sprigs basil, mint for garnish
Make the simple syrup: Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and place in a small container or jar. Refrigerate until cold.
Make the cocktail:
In a large carafe or pitcher, combine the sugar water, grapes, peaches, sliced lime and sprigs of mint and basil. Pour in the bottle of white wine. Add in the lime juice. Allow the sangria to chill for a few hours.
To serve, spoon some of the fruit in a glass. Pour the wine over top. Top with some sparkling water or club soda. Garnish with a sprig or two of fresh basil or mint. Serve!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog www.OurItalianTable.com.