Archive for the ‘Basil’ Category


Earlier this fall,  I held a dinner party to christen my new home in Toronto.  I decided to make gazpacho, one of my absolute favourite cold soups to start.  When tomatoes are at their prime, this recipe just bursts with flavours – a refreshing mix of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and fresh herbs.  I love this soup as a starter or with a few slices of crispy baguette, as a meal on its own.  And it makes for great leftovers; the flavours only continue to deepen!

This recipe is slightly modified from Silver Palate.




(8 to 10 portions)



6 large ripe tomatoes

2 red bell peppers

2 medium-sized yellow onions

2 large shallots

2 large cucumbers

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

1  1/2 cup canned tomato juice

1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

1/4 cup fresh basil

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground peppers, to taste



Wash all the vegetables.  Coarsely chop the tomatoes, saving the juices.  Stem, seed, and coarsely chop the peppers.  Peel and coarsely chop the onions, shallots, and cucumbers.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, olive oil, reserved tomato juices, and canned tomato juices.

In a food processor, puree the vegetables in small batches, adding the tomato juice mixture as needed to keep the blades from clogging.  Do not puree completely – the gazpacho should retain some of its crunch.

Stir in the dill, basil, cayenne, and salt and pepper.  Cover and chill for at least four hours, or preferably overnight.

To serve, stir, taste and correct the seasoning, and ladle into chilled soup bowls or mugs.

Bon appetit!


– Catherine


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Sunny and reaching a high of 11, Halifax flirted with spring yesterday!  As I basked in the sunshine while editing my thesis, my thoughts wandered to summer.  I realized that I may not make it to my family’s cottage in Ontario, so I immediately began to miss everything wonderful about the lake: lounging on the dock, reading trash novels, napping in hammocks, watching the sun set, and the eating food grilled on a charcoal barbecue.  There is something so magical about the smoky flavour infused into everything grilled over charcoal briquettes.

I am a self-declared mushroom addict, and Portobello mushrooms are among my favourite.  My friend Dora introduced me to this simple, yet delicious recipe. The premise: stuff the portebello mushrooms with pesto mixed with your favourite extras (my favourite is roasted red pepper), top the stuffed mushrooms with copious amounts of cheese, and grill it until juicy!

I love eating these with other grilled veggies or inside a bun for tasty veggie burgers.  Now it’s bonus if you grill the mushroom over a charcoal barbecue, but in a pinch, these cook nicely in the oven at 450 F.


Grilled Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms


(4 servings)


4 large portebello mushrooms

1 cup pesto, either homemade or store-bought

1 onion, finely chopped

(Optional extras: finely chopped roasted red peppers, sundried tomatoes, garlic, extra Parmesan cheese…)

1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated or thinly sliced

Olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper



Preheat the grill to medium heat.

With a damp cloth, clean the portobello mushrooms and trip the stems. Brush the caps with olive oil and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together the pesto, onion, and any other of your favourite extras. Season with salt and pepper.  Divide the mixture evenly between the four mushroom caps.  Place on grill and cook until mushroom is mostly cooked, about 8-10 minutes.  Top with cheese and grill the mushrooms an additional two minutes until melted.  Serve immediately. Bon appetit!

– Catherine

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I often cook up a large batch of food on Sunday to last me for the week, and this Sunday I craved lasagna with a twist.  Rummaging for inspiration through my fridge, I happened upon an acorn and butternut squash.  Squash is one of my favourite vegetables, and, as winter approaches, it is one of the few you can find at the market.  The beauty of this vegetable is the sweetness and versatility of its flesh.  This recipe from the Food Network was receiving rave reviews, so I decided to give it a go.

I felt the recipe needed garlic as well as a new flavour to balance the sweetness of the butternut puree, so as an experiment, I introduced arugula to offer a bitter contrast.  The original recipe only used mozzarella and Parmesan, but I love ricotta so included it with the cheese layer.  The final lasagna was enticing: the 15 minutes of letting the lasagna sit was torture as the aromas of pesto and cheese wafted through my apartment.   And I can attest that the zesty arugula balanced the mellow squash beautifully!

Butternut Squash and Arugula Lasagna

(serves 12)




1 tablespoon olive oil

1 clove of garlic, minced

1.5 to 2 pounds of butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 cup vegetable stock

1/4 cup butter

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 cup flour

1 litre (4 cups) milk

2 bay leaves

Generous pinch nutmeg

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves (or a few tablespoons of pesto)

12 spinach lasagna noodles (either fresh no-boil or pre-boiled)

2 cups packed arugula

2 1/2 cups mozzerella cheese

2 cups ricotta cheese

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

To make the butternut puree, heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add the squash and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Pour the broth into the skillet, cover, and simmer until the squash is tender, stirring occasionally.  Cool slightly and then transfer the squash and any remaining liquid to a food processor and blend until smooth.  Season the squash puree with more salt and pepper to taste. Set the puree aside.

To make the pesto bechamel, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add the garlic and flour and whisk until slightly brown.  Gradually whisk in the milk and add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, whisking often, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the nutmeg.  Allow the bechamel to cool slightly.  Transfer a cup or two of the sauce to a blender.  Add the basil and blend until smooth.  Return the basil sauce to the sauce in the pan and stir to blend. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the lasagna, preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit.  Lightly butter a 13x9x2 inch baking dish.  Spread 3/4 cup of the bechamel over the prepared baking dish.  Arrange 3 lasagna noodles on the bottom of the pan.  Spread 1/3 of the squash puree over the noodles. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the mozzerella cheese, 1/4 of the ricotta, and 1 cup of arugula.  Drizzle 1/2 cup basil bechamel over the noodles.  Repeat layering 3 more times, including the other cup of arugula on the 3rd of 4 layers.

Tightly cover the baking dish with foil and bake the lasagna for 40 minutes.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses over the lasagna.  Continue baking uncovered until the sauce bubbles and the top is golden, 15 minutes longer.  Let the lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.

Bon appetit!

– Catherine

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The first time I tried a smoked salmon and fresh basil frittata, it was made for me. I had never thought of the combination of basil with smoked salmon – usually I associate parsley, or dill – so this seemed unusual. With the first bite, however, I realized that they go very well together.

The great thing about this meal is that it is very simple, and yet very elegant. It can easily be made for an impromptu celebration – like celebrating the arrival of Saturday, or your friend for a spontaneous brunch.

This summer, we had an abundance of basil in our garden so vast that even eating it daily and making about 4 pounds of pesto to store in the freezer did not completely eliminate it. What a tomato-and-basil summer it was in Toronto!

This recipe comes from Donna Hay’s wonderful collection.

Ingredients – generously serves 2

-4 eggs, lightly beaten
-1/2 cup milk
-1/3 cup shredded basil
-1/3 cup grated aged cheddar cheese or gruyère
-cracked black pepper
-6-8 slices smoked salmon
-4 toasted slices of your favourite bread


Place the eggs, milk, basil, cheddar and pepper in a bowl and mix to combine.  Pour the mixture into a  frying pan and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes or until it is almost set.
Place under a hot grill (broiler) for 1 minute or until golden.  Remove from the pan and cut into wedges.  To serve, top with the gravlax, and buttered, toasted bread.

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August is one of my favourite months. Ripe tomatoes hang off their vines, while bees and butterflies flit around the garden. There are so many vegetables. They are so good. I don’t even know what to do with all of them! Every time I get home I walk to the back yard, only to find another bowl-full of cherry tomatoes, and ox-heart tomatoes weighing over a pound each! So, I thought I’d post something savoury after Catherine’s delicious sweet series, something about the garden.

This recipe is simple, so simple, because the entire point is to ensure that the true deliciousness of August tomatoes fresh off the vine shines through. That is the central point of the salad.

Ingredients – 4 servings

-2 large ox-heart or other flavourful tomatoes, room-temperature
-10 fresh basil leaves
-2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
-2 Tbsp olive oil (if you have special olive oil, this is the time to use it!)
-pinch salt and pepper to taste



In a jar, mix the vinegar and oil.


Slice tomatoes gently, and arrange on a salad platter or individual plates. Finely chop the basil, and place it evenly over the tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Drizzle dressing on, and serve immediately.

Bon appétit!



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For me, the splendour of cooking during the summer stems from an abundance of fresh herbs.  Be it basil or thyme, chives or parsley, dill or mint, the immediate burst of flavour is ever a delight.  As a child, I petitioned my mother for years to plant a herb garden, which she did.  Ever since, it has been a feature in our garden and we are spoiled throughout the summer by our potted herbs.

Spoiled by a selection of herbs from our garden: parsley, garlic and common chives, blooming thyme, dill, and green and purple basil!d

This week, Ottawa has been steamy – hitting over 30 degrees celsius most days.  After my daily 30 km commute, I am often ready for light fare that is simultaneously filling and tasting of summer.  Inspired by Silverpalate, my family has long enjoyed this pasta recipe that screams summer.  Delicate angel hair pasta is coated in a creamy bechamel, infused with a medley of fresh herbs and complemented by spring asparagus and soft peas.  The beauty of this dish comes from its versatility – any combination of herbs will do! So on Monday, craving a summery meal, I walked around our garden picking a generous handful of fresh herbs to whip up this dish.  Served with ripe tomatoes and the last-of-the-season strawberries in a spinach salad, this was truly a meal to savour!

Angel Hair Pasta with Fresh Herbs

(Serves 6)



1 box of angel hair pasta (about 350 grams) – I used whole wheat and it was delicious

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

2 cups of milk

1/2 clove garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

About 1/3 to 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese

1 bunch of asparagus, ends removed, sliced into 1 inch pieces

2 cups of frozen peas

2 cups of any fresh herb combination, finely chopped (recommended include basil, parsley, dill, thyme, chives, oregano, and coriander)



Cook the angel hair pasta al dente in a large pot of salted water.  Blanch the asparagus and peas with the pasta for the last 90 seconds of cooking.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Stir in the flour and garlic and cook until bubbly and fragrant.  Whisk in the milk.  Bring the bechamel to a simmer, reducing for 3-5 minutes.  Season to your liking with salt and pepper.  Remove the cream sauce from the heat, and gently stir in the Parmesan and fresh herbs.  Toss the pasta and vegetables to coat.  Divine served with fresh tomatoes!


– Catherine


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For the last month, I have embarked on discovering vegetarain cuisine.  There have been some sure disasters (whoever said ketchup went well with tofu lives on Mars), and some absolute winners.  I’ve learned that vegetarian food at restaurants can be flavourful and juicy, or that it can be downright unappetizing and bland (not to mention impossible to find on a menu outside of a boring salad).  Unfortunately there is too much of the latter, and not nearly enough of the former.  I have discovered two vegetarian cookbooks on my shelf, and have picked out many more recipes for the upcoming months!

Tonight, on the last evening of my adventure, I wanted to cook a memorable dish.  Nothing beats the meatiness of Portobello mushrooms, the sweetness of a roasted tomato, or the freshness of basil.  Combined, this dish lingers beautifully in your mouth, the juices of the mushroom and tomato piqued by the basil.  To really showcase the Portobello caps, I chose to serve it over a simple bed of bulgur, but this would make a delicious burger that would turn the largest carnivore into a die-hard vegetarian!

Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Pesto-Infused Tomatoes

(1 serving)


A few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar

2 Portobello mushroom caps

2 thick slices tomato

4 tablespoons pesto (https://gourmeh.wordpress.com/2011/03/13/almond-romano-parsley-pesto/)

A few slices red onion

Drizzle olive oil

Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Brush the mushrooms generously with balsamic vinegar, and place gill side-up on baking sheet.  Layer a tomato slice over the mushroom.  Spread the pesto overtop. Sprinkle the red onion slices on top of the pesto.  Drizzle a few drops of olive oil overtop.  Bake about 12-15 minutes, until the mushrooms release their juices.  Delicious served over a bed of bulgur or on top of an arugula salad!

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