LOCAVORE’S DELIGHT: The Series # 6.
Follow us all summer long as we explore the bounty of our region’s farms through the eyes and palate of our own Chef Jay Pierce.
“I just love the way they celebrate vegetables in the south,” says Alice Waters, who helped start the Edible Schoolyard program in Greensboro in 2010 — the only affiliate program to the Berkley, CA campus in the nation.
“But instead of a ‘meat and three’ it should be a ‘meat and 10.’ ”
She was referring to the south’s historic “meat and three” menu style, used here at Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen. It’s a soul-food approach, offering a long list of vegetables for side dishes, and the promise of “glorious vittles served with the utmost informality,” as defined by food writers Jane and Michael Stern.
“What Alice is saying is that we need to eat more vegetables,” says Chef Jay Pierce.
In the summer, basil is a prolific green. Synonymous with summer pesto. Despite basil’s abundance in the summer garden, this member of the mint family is rarely used fresh in most kitchens, which is an insult to its fine cross between licorice and clover flavor.
It’s most often over-done, over-used, too dry and in a jar on the spice rack, Jay adds. As a culture we’ve lost a touch with fresh herbs, and we substitute for dry herbs because we do weekly grocery shopping instead of daily shopping.
Basil, parsley, and mint could easily be added to the list of offerings to the “meat and three menu,” to up our vegetable wattage to 10. With fresh herbs on the list, we could up it to 20.
There’s a way to change that.
“I believe that our children are influenced by more than the homes they grow up in. If we want to change something — like our child’s diet — we need to have more conversations with schools and the people who feed children,” says Jay, on a quick phone call about this basil story. He was dropping his kids off at school that morning, the same day his story ran in the “Chefs with Issues” feature on Eatocracy.com, CNN’s food blog.
That’s also why, when possible, Jay gets basil, kale, spinach — whatever grows in abundance — from the Edible Schoolyard in Greensboro.
The garden and exhibit has a school outreach program and buses kids in from outer areas to learn how to play in the dirt again.
“The Edible Schoolyard receives over 100,000 visitors per year,” said Justin Leonard, Garden Manager at the Edible Schoolyard. “We focus on the seed to table cycle (planning, planting, caring for, harvesting, cooking, eating, cleaning up, composting) as a tool for food empowerment. Children are involved in every aspect of the garden and we try to have lots of items that they can eat out of hand.”
The thing with basil, is that when you plant it, you don’t really know how much you’re going to get. There’s often a surplus.
“They’re not really growing basil for us, I put cash in their coffers to help pay for their crop,” Jays says. “They’re growing vegetables for the kids and I want to support any kind of effort I can to help children eat more vegetables.”
Use more basil
Pick up a brown paper sack full of fresh, locally grown vegetables on the Farmer’s Cart and use a little fresh basil in your home kitchen.
Caring for basil
Selected from Food Lover’s Companion, p. 47
Choose evenly colored leaves with no sign of wilting.
Refrigerate fresh basil, wrapped in barely damp paper towels and then in a plastic bag for up to 4 days.
Or store a bunch of basil, stems down, in a glass of water with a plastic bag over the leaves (refrigerate in this manner for up to a week, change the water every 2 days).
To preserve and dry fresh basil, wash and dry the leaves, and place layers of leaves, then coarse salt, in a container that can be tightly sealed.
Alternatively, finely chop the clean basil and combine with olive oil and water. Freeze in tiny portions to flavor sauces, salad dressings, etc.
If your kids eat salad, toss a little fresh basil in with the greens.
Add it uncooked to your roasted squash, tomatoes.
Add fresh basil to a cheese pizza. “Fresh mozzarella, fresh tomato sauce, and basil, that’s it,” he says. If your kids love tomatoes, then basil is going to give them a little zing.
One age-appropriate note: Basil is a stronger herb, more appropriate for children who enjoy a stronger taste, so don’t be discouraged if the younger ones don’t take to it. They’ll grow into it.
Friday, we’ll post Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen’s Pesto Sauce and Chicken Tomato Basil
Read LOCAVORE’s DELIGHT: The Series.
- #1 Learning to forage for ramps with Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider
- #2 A wild recipe: Ramps harvested by hand in the Appalachian Mountains for this month’s Chef’s Feature
- #3 Slow heat to summer: Green Garlic Confit from Plum Granny Farm
- #4 Fresh, Cold, Hothouse Tomatoes: Screech Owl Farms
- #5 Inside the Tomato Haven at Screech Owl Farms