Browsing through my new volume of Canal House Cooking, I came upon the perfect pairing for my favorite basil summertime drinks — the Italian crispy, cheesey treat known as a frico. Perfect for me because I love something salty to munch along with a cocktail. These are so simple to make, the thought of having to cook a few after guests have arrived isn’t at all intimidating. Even when you’ve run out of all other ingredients for quick hors d’ouvres, I’ll bet you can find some grating cheese somewhere in the fridge. You can make them any size you please so start small until you get the hang of it. The recipe calls for 1 cup of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano or other hard Italian grating cheese. I didn’t measure (typical) and in this case, I’d say just start with whatever feels comfortable.
Canal House Frico
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Sprinkle 1 cup (or less) grated (I used shredded) hard cheese in roundish, thin layer.
Toast until it begins to melt and turns a deep golden brown.
Lift up the edge of the cheese with a thin spatula. I found a metal one works best but carefully not to scrape your nonstick skillet. Gently slide it over to toast the other side. It may bunch up a bit but that’s fine.
Transfer to a plate, let it cool down and crisp. When it’s still hot, it’s somewhat pliable and can be shaped if you are so inclined. I love them just as they are.
If you feel like continuing the Italian theme, basil is an excellent ingredient for a summer cocktail, mocktail or iced tea. All you’ll need is a batch of basil simple syrup and you can mix it up however you like.
Basil loves heat when it’s growing but doesn’t take well to cooking. One way to get around this when making basil simple syrup is to blanch it VERY quickly — for 10 seconds or so. Before it knows what happened, plunge into a bowl of ice water, then blend with the sugar & water. It’ll still retain that wonderful spicy, complex sweetness. The other big tip I learned from Jerry Traunfeld, in his Herbal Kitchen, is to add a tiny amount of baking soda to the simple syrup. This is a huge revelation for those of us who have added bright green herbs to drinks only to have them turn into a muddy brown mess. The next day, your basil simple syrup will look as lovely in its emerald green summer dress as when it arrived at the party (unlike the rest of us). Don’t combine with citrus until you’re ready to drink it to maintain its beauty for as long as possible.
Basil Simple Syrup
1 1/2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/2 cup water
1/8 t baking soda
Blanch basil leaves by plunging them for 10 seconds into a small pot of rapidly boiling water. Lift them out with tongs and place in a bowl of ice water. Place in a sieve and drain, squeezing out excess water.
Blend sugar, water and baking soda in a blender. Add basil leaves and continue blending until you have a dark green liquid — 30 seconds to a minute.
Strain through a fine strainer using a spoon to push the liquid through. Store in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
Once you have this potently delicious syrup you can mix up all sorts of concoctions.
Basil Lemon Lime Fizz (non-alcoholic drink for 1)
2 t basil simple syrup (recipe above)
1 t lemon juice
1 t lime juice
Sparkling water or club soda
Pour basil simple syrup, lemon & lime juice into glass. Fill with cracked ice. Top off with club soda. Stir.
You can adjust amounts of basil simple syrup, lemon & lime juice to suit your own taste. This drink is not only beautiful but is an excellent thirst-quencher for a hot summer day. These same ingredients make the basis (substituting the club soda with tonic) for an amazing gin & tonic.
Basil Berry Tonic (cocktail for 2)
4 ounces rum (we like the taste of dark rum but light rum also works and would make a drink of a lighter color)
1 ounce basil simple syrup (recipe above)
3 – 4 large strawberries, washed and hulled + 2 extra for garnish
Leaves of 2 or 3 sprigs of basil
Gently muddle the strawberries and basil leaves in the bottom of a wide shaker. Remember you are pressing, not tearing.
Add rum and simple syrup.
Add plenty of ice to the shaker and shake.
Fill 2 glasses with cracked ice. Pour muddled mixture into glasses and top off with tonic. Stir and garnish with a strawberry.
If you prefer a clearer cocktail, you can strain out the muddled pulp. It may look prettier but we think it doesn’t taste as good. Why waste all that good stuff?
Once again, Charlie, our master mixologist, outdid himself with this herbalicious Basil Berry Tonic recipe. We have Jerry Traunfeld to thank for the basil simple syrup and inspiration for the Basil Lemon Lime Fizz.