A few weeks ago, I had a situation with bolting basil, and I spent some time looking for ways to preserve the leaves without sacrificing their flavor and aroma. Herbs that are stored in the freezer are a good substitute for when nothing fresh is available. However, frozen herbs, especially the delicate basil, sage, and cilantro, have an unappealing papery-thin texture and lack potency. An easy way to preserve the flavor of freshly-picked herbs is to remove their moisture completely.
A dehydrator or an oven can dry out the leaves while maintaining their freshness and taste. Freshly-dried herbs are an easy way to harvest and preserve herbs that are bolting or growing rapidly, seeing you well into winter. Oven–dried basil can be crushed easily and delivers a fresh punch of concentrated flavor and bouquet. Basil is known as a powerful anti-bacterial and nutrient-rich herb, and I added powdered basil into salad dressing as well as mixed it with tea leaves for a jolt of healthy tonic.
I also experimented with sage and lavender gathered from my outdoor pots (soon to be indoors with the recent onset of cool weather!) The kitchen smelled much like an imagined idyllic French countryside when I amassed small mason jars of dried herbs. Carried away by the concept of drying leaves, I extended the process to make kale chips brushed with sage-scented oil.
Basil – 1 bunch
- Heat the oven to 170°F.
- Rinse the basil in cool water and shake-off excess moisture.
- Spread the cleaned leaves on parchment paper.
- Bake for about 1- 1½ hour, until the leaves have wilted and curled. They should crumble easily.
- Remove and cool.
- Store in glass containers.
Kale – a handful
Olive oil – 1 tbsp
Salt – ½ tsp
Basil – 2, dried
- Heat the oven to 350°F
- Wash and dry the kale leaves. Remove the thick stalk.
- In a bowl, mix the oil, salt, pepper, and crushed basil leaves.
- Coat the kale leaves, using your hands to coat the oil over the leaves.
- Lay them on a foil and bake for 12-15 minutes. Remove and turn the leaves over. Continue to cook for another 5-7 minutes.
- Remove and cool. The leaves should be crispy and brown at the ends.
- Eat immediately.
I had previously written about the semolina grain and how it appears and tastes differently in North African and Middle Eastern couscous and Indian uppamav contexts. The semolina granules used in couscous and uppamav have a distinctive texture. Adding vegetables or meat to the dish make them both substantial meals. Semolina flour, on the other hand, is smooth much like regular flour. It is used to make both bread and pasta.
Semolina flour is made from the inner endosperm of durum wheat which is yellow in color, and the resulting flour has a pale yellow hue. The flour is commonly used to make gnocchi. As N. is a big fan of gnocchi, I waited for her to come home to make potato gnocchi with semolina flour. The recipe uses rich ingredients resulting in a decadent and creamy gnocchi. Baked gnocchi can be eaten on its own, warm from the oven! Alternately, serve with fresh tomato sauce.
Baked Potato Gnocchi
Potato – 1 large, boiled
Semolina flour – 1 cup, plus ¼ cup for dusting
Milk – 4 cups
Nutmeg powder – ½ tsp
Egg yolks – 2, whisked
Egg – 1, whisked
Butter – ¾ cup, room temperature
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – ¾ cup + ¼ cup, finely grated
Sage – 10 leaves, finely chopped
- Using a metal grater, grate the boiled potato into a large bowl. Keep aside.
- Bring the milk to a simmer in a large pan.
- Add the semolina flour and nutmeg to the milk. Mix well, removing lumps with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be smooth. Cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring continuously so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Remove from heat. Add the butter, egg yolks, egg, and ¾ cup grated cheese and combine.
- Add chopped sage and grated potato. Mix with a light touch to form a dough ball. Roll out the dough on parchment paper, about 1 1/2-inch thickness. Refrigerate for an hour.
- Dust a clean surface with a little flour.
- Take a small amount of dough and start to roll between your palm and then on the clean surface to make a 4-5-inch-long log. Use a light touch.
- Cut into small pieces (about 1-inch). Make a small dent (collects the sauce later) in each piece with your pointer finger. Place the small pieces on a parchment paper. Or, use a cookie cutter or a tea strainer to cut out different shapes.
- If you are not cooking right away, freeze the gnocchi. It can be baked from frozen.
- Otherwise, sprinkle the remaining grated cheese and bake it at 425°F for 25-30 minutes. The gnocchi should have a light brown crust.
- Serve immediately.