The Sweet Scent of Basil

My first real memory of basil came when I was very young. I remember the day as if it were yesterday and every time I smell basil, I’m transported back in time.

We lived in Philadelphia, and in the summer we would pile into the family car and drive one and a half hours to my cousin’s home in Atlantic City, N.J. We would drive past farms filled with incredibly sweet Silver Queen corn, beefsteak tomatoes the size of softballs, peaches so fresh I could see the peach fuzz from the car, and rows and rows and rows of fragrant basil.

Cousin Jeannie’s apartment was filled with produce, fruit and herbs, all picked fresh from those farms. The scent of basil was everywhere and had a magical effect on me. The only basil I knew lived in a small jar cramped with other dried spices in a cabinet that rarely saw the light of day. Jeannie’s basil lived in colorful flowerpots that lined the windowsill in rooms with a sunny view. Jeannie would let me clip fresh basil and showed me how to gently tear the leaves by hand, and sprinkle the beautiful green pieces on just about everything we ate — like those Jersey beefsteak tomatoes, fresh pasta, homemade focaccia and those juicy, delicious peaches.

Fast-forward to today. I absolutely love baking with basil. It adds a wonderful layer of flavor that’s not so common in desserts. Keep in mind there are many varieties of basil, each yielding completely different flavor profiles: Sweet basil has a strong clove flavor, lemon basil has beautiful citrus notes and licorice basil has anise undertones.

Hurry before summer ends and grab the recipe for the Old School Double Crust Blueberry Pie With Goat Cheese and Basil or the Cherry Lemon Basil Clafoutis.

I’ve also included recipes with basil in my new cookbook, Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors (available October 2), like Basil Panna Cotta and Peach, Blueberry and Basil Compote.

Heck, why wait? Go, toss a bowl of sliced strawberries with a chiffonade of sweet basil, black pepper, granulated sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar — right now. Amazing. The berries taste great all by themselves and are heavenly spooned over ice cream, pound cake, even waffles and pancakes.

Hedy Goldsmith, a 2012 James Beard Award finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef, is the executive pastry chef for the Genuine Hospitality Group of restaurants including Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami and Grand Cayman, and Harry’s Pizzeria in Miami. Now in her second season of Cooking Channel’s Unique Sweets , Hedy has appeared on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate and lauded in The New York Times , People , Wine Spectator , Bon Appétit , The Huffington Post and Food & Wine magazine. Hedy’s first cookbook, Baking Out Loud: Fun Desserts with Big Flavors (Clarkson Potter / Publishers), will be released October 2.

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