Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Recipe: Pickled Basil Stems, or how to avoid throwing away anything ever

Recently, someone called me a serious picnicker. I suppose that's true. HM and I recently made banh mi for a day trip to the Hood River Fruit Loop. A friend and former co-worker pointed out that while most people brought PB&J to field work, I had "the best sandwiches." It's true--there was usually avocado, some kind of cheese, caramelized onions, and smoked or baked tofu. That one is still a work week favorite, except now I eat at a table instead of on the ground somewhere in the Oregon wilderness. And the summer that I discovered pan bagnat, I made them for every hiking trip, day trip, or other trip that would bring my companions and me outdoors at a meal time.

I'm not going to tell you how to make pan bagnat today, but rather how to make a condiment for your pan bagnat. Or salad or other sandwich or whatever else you can imagine. If you have a burning desire to learn more about pan bagnat, I wrote about it two years ago. You can also check out from the library Clotilde Dusoulier's first cookbook Chocolate and Zucchini which provides a recipe and background information. It's the type of sandwich that relies less on a recipe and more on guidelines. One of which is the inclusion of pickled ingredients, and another of which is the sandwich's past as peasant food. This recipe for thrift is consistent with pan bagnat's traditional past.

This tangentially related photo is of a place we've picnicked recently. I am including pictures of such things to buffer the very bad camera-phone pictures of food that accompany the recipe portion of this blog post.

The inspiration for this recipe is partially a 2011 New York Times article, That's Not Trash, That's Dinner!, about the less-eaten, typically discarded, perfectly edible and sometimes delicious parts of well-known fruit and vegetable plants; as well as the pickle platter small plate at one of my favorite restaurants, Grain and Gristle, which has of late been serving small pieces of pickled kale stems. The last time I had basil and cilantro beginning, as is their wont, to go bad in the crisper drawer, before washing and freezing the stems for stock, I hesitated. Then I turned to Google for ideas. I found no recipes for pickled herb stems, but I did find their mention on fancy restaurant menus or blogs about trips to fancy restaurants. So at the very least, they're not poisonous, I thought. Someone's tried it.

And with that pre-ramble, I give you a very simple recipe.

The view from the picnic site where these pickled stems were first tried.

Quick Pickled Basil Stems

Basil stems and wilty or dried but not rotten basil leaves
A jar big enough to fit them
Acidic liquid such as vinegar - I used lemon juice
Additional spices you'd care to include

Wash the basil. Chop the stems into small pieces, 1/4" or so in length. Add these and any leave you are using to the jar. Add salt. For one bunch of basil stems, I added about 2 tsp of salt. Then add your acidic liquid. I squeezed lemons directly into the jar. You want to submerge the stem pieces in the liquid. What I did, since I didn't want to use more than two lemons, was cut the remaining lemon peel into wedges and push them into the jar, using their weight to submerge and pickle both the lemon peels and the basil stems. Another note--some basil stems might be too tough and wooden to turn into soft, edible pickles. It's up to you if you want to add these to the brine; they may add flavor, or they may just get in the way.

Let sit in the liquid at least overnight. I'm not sure how long they keep; I made them a little over two weeks ago. The morning after I made these, roughly two weeks ago, I made pan bagnat with them and brought them to Cannon Beach.

This was actually taken while picnicking with the above-referenced pan bagnat and pickled stems.

I haven't tried these on salads or in pasta yet, but I'll let you know how it works out. Other than pan bagnat, I've made a mid-morning work snack with these consisting of teff polenta (or you could use normal polenta, or a cracker, or a slice of bread, or a sliced cucumber or radish) with smoked tofu (or smoked mozzarella or regular mozzarella or other cheese or a piece of meat) with a slice of tomato, the pickled basil stems and leaves topping the ensemble.

To further distract you from my ugly camera phone pictures, I present you with a flower near Mount Hood waving goodbye.

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