Farmers Market season is one of my favorite times of the year. Walking up and down the aisles past mountains and mountains of fresh produce, freezers full of local meat and poultry, and vendors selling anything and everything you can think of is so exhilarating.
One of my favorite things to do is go to the market towards the end of the day, as it starts to wind down, and really chat with the vendors. You can talk to them about what moved that day and what didn’t, what they have leftover, and what they are looking to off-load. It’s fascinating to me when things that typically don’t move at all end up selling out in the first few hours, or when a typically “hot” item doesn’t seem to move at all one week. This is when I challenge myself. I will go and buy a bunch of the things that didn’t sell well, with no actual meal in mind. I’ll just buy a bunch of things, sometimes at some sort of discount because it can’t move forward, and go home and see what I come up with.
Two weeks ago it was basil. Basil didn’t move well at the market, and many vendors were left with bunches and bunches of it. I think it had to do with the fact that only one or two vendors had tomatoes and everyone and their mother is waiting for their first Caprese Salad of the summer. So until there are tomatoes, no one buys basil.
Now, basil is not a particularly difficult thing to use, but in large quantities, you can end up running out of ideas, especially since it goes bad pretty quickly. I ended up with 20-25 bunches of basil and decided to puree it all down with just enough olive oil to allow the food processor to do its job. When doing this I toss in the stems and leaves. There is no point in trying to pull off the leaves because once it’s a chunky puree you can’t tell the difference.
Now with this much basil puree on my hands, I had to freeze it. You can freeze it in sealed pyrex, airtight Tupperware, freezer bags, or ice cube trays (my personal favorite). I intended to use a bunch of it to make pesto later in the summer, so I froze most of it in small Tupperware containers, but the remainder I froze in two ice cube trays I got at the dollar store.
The ice cube trays allow you to portion out the basil puree without thawing a whole big mass of it, scooping some out, and then refreezing what you don’t use. Freezing it in cubes also makes it super easy to toss a basil ice cube in with something you are sauteeing, like chicken or stir-fried vegetables, and add a nice fresh punch to your dish. Or pop the cube in the microwave for a few seconds to thaw slightly and add it to a marinade, sauce, or dressing.
Garlic scapes are something else that you can treat in a very similar way, and because their season is so short pureeing them and freezing the mixture can extend their amazing influence on your dishes for a good portion of the summer. Pureeing garlic scapes is also a good way of dealing with the ones that may have gotten a touch woody. Chop them and place them in the food processor with just a little bit of olive oil and puree until you have a nice paste, add more olive oil as needed but keep in mind you want to use as little as needed so as not to over-power the basil or scapes.
If you are interested in garlic scapes then I suggest the following recipes (especially the one for Garlic Scape Pesto - I always add some basil in with the scapes to create a more dynamic flavor):
Also, check out our Specialty Crop Card on Garlic Scapes, available for free download here:
Check back for more on my summer culinary challenges, and more tips and tricks to get the most out of your farmers market this year.