Basil, Ready for its Next Starring Role
Fresh basil is one of those things, like Liam Neeson and patterned bowties, that instantly transforms whatever you add it to into something better. Sprinkle it over pretty much anything and the flavor of summer shines through. It’s the effortlessness of basil that’s one of its most endearing qualities, and so I was hesitant to feature it in a recipe that demands a bit more time, attention, and equipment than basil is used to. Something a little more challenging than your Caprese salad, where all it has to do is show up and it's a star.But let’s challenge it a little, shall we? Let’s put basil to work. Especially since it comes fresh to me weekly from Endless Sun Produce in my Raleigh City Farm CSA farmshare, and I'm pretty much rolling in the stuff. Having previously infused lavender into a crème brûlée, I decided to try a basil-infused version. I steeped the leaves with vanilla in sugary cream and egg yolks. I strained the solids out, poured the infused custard into ramekins, then baked, chilled, and brazenly set fire to the result (or rather, lightly caramelized the top with a small, childproof kitchen torch).All I will say is, I think we have a winner here. The proof is in the custard, of which there were six individual servings made for my two-person household – all of which did not survive the weekend. Vanilla Basil Crème BrûléeMakes about 6 individual servings, but may vary depending on the size of your ramekins (mine were 7 ounces).Special Equipment: This recipe requires the use of a torch to caramelize the sugar on your crème brulee. They are pretty inexpensive and nice to have. Yes, I know: supposedly, you can put the ramekins under the broiler as an alternative, but I’ve read that this cooks unevenly. As one cookbook put it, “don’t even think about it.” Ingredients:4 cups chilled heavy whipping cream2/3 cup granulated sugar1/4 teaspoon table saltSeeds of 2 vanilla beans, removed from vanilla bean pod by making a slit down the length of it, and scraping the seeds out with the back of a knife (pod will be used, too)1 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped12 large egg yolks1/3 cup raw or natural cane sugar Directions:Preheat oven to 300 degrees.Whisk together 2 cups of the cream with the granulated sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. Add the vanilla seeds, the vanilla bean pod, and the basil. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, remove the pan from the heat and let steep, covered, 15 minutes.Arrange ramekins in a deep-sided roasting pan. Bring a large kettle of water to boil.Stir remaining 2 cups of cold cream into the hot cream to temper it.Whisk the yolks in a large bowl. Add the cream mixture into the yolks and stir to combine evenly.Strain cream egg mixture through a sieve into a clean bowl. Discard solids. Pour mixture into ramekins.Carefully pour boiled water (without splashing into the cream) into the roasting pan until water comes about half way up the outsides of the ramekins. Again – carefully! – place roasting pan with ramekins on rack in oven and bake about 45 minutes, or until centers of ramekins are just barely set and do not slosh.Transfer ramekins to a wire rack and cool 2 hours. Refrigerate at least 2 hours (or up to 3 days).Remove the ramekins from the refrigerator and sprinkle lightly with raw sugar. Tilt each ramekin so that sugar evenly covers the cream. Using the torch, caramelize the sugar for a few seconds. The sugar will melt and re-harden to form a crispy topping. Serve immediately.