Sunday, September 9, 2007

Basil and Tomato

Seattle is finally getting a little bit of summer back after a gloomy August. We're into our second week of September and it's in the 70s; not a cloud in the sky.

I grew 'Dark Opal' the last two summers at work, and although the deep purple leaves are striking, it tends to be leggy. I gave 'Red Rubin' a try this summer (seed found online at Cook's Garden). Given the name, the deep purple is more red than 'Dark Opal'. Its flavor is not as pungent as other purple basils and won't overpower your dishes. If the plants start to flower, you can pinch them back and the plant retains the typical basil flavor. Some basils are too harsh on your palate if allowed to flower even if they are pinched off.

The basil was fertilized to encourage growth in the spring and haven't been fertilized since. They're planted in quick-draining soil and are watered at the first signs of wilting. My garden is slug-and-snail city yet so far they have not touched them. To harvest, I pinch back to where I see new leaves emerging, but not too low. I want the plant to keep pushing new leaves for me!

Warmer weather the last couple of weeks have helped ripen my 'Pantano Romanesco' tomatoes. We had a good rain last week and the tomatoes had just a slight split where they hung on the vine. I only water my tomatoes if they are wilting for more than a day. This summer we have had regular rain, and only a few weeks here and there when we had temperatures over 80 for several days in a row. A little stress increases their flavor. Too much stress makes them mealy, and too much water makes the fruit more watery and causes them to split.

Tuna pasta is a regular dish in our home since it's so easy to make. I usually have canned tuna and pasta in the pantry, and once the pasta is ready, dinner (or lunch) is served. In the winter, I use parsley, garlic, shallots, and sliced black olives mixed into the pasta with a couple tablespoons of olive oil. But when I have fresh vine-ripened tomatoes from my garden and purple basil at hand, I can make a great summertime lunch. Here's the recipe:

3 large tomatoes diced (preferably heirloom, or 1.5 cups of grape tomatoes halved)
3 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic chopped
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
chopped basil (about 5 sprigs' worth of leaves)
2 cans of tuna drained
1 lb pasta cooked

While your pasta is cooking, mix everything except the tuna in a large bowl. While the tomatoes are marinating and the pasta is cooking, flake the tuna into a separate bowl; then mix in 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil with the tuna. If you have tuna packed in olive oil, you can skip this part. You may want to save the oil drained from the tuna for mixing with the pasta at the end. Drain the pasta and add it to the marinated tomatoes, add the tuna and mix thoroughly. Garnish with basil flowers if you wish. Mangia! Mangia!

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