Archive | 4:21 pm

Who Put Basil In My Bevanda?

18 Jul

I got a new cookbook on Sunday, Bert Greene‘s Kitchen Bouquets. I don’t read a lot about cookbooks, even though I collect them voraciously. In fact, it is usually after purchasing a tome that I find out how important its existence has been to modern cooking.

Take the time I bought a copy of Clementine Paddleford‘s How America Eats. I remember balking at the $30 price tag, most of the cookbooks I find barely cross the $5 barrier. I hemmed. I hawed. I flipped and perused. Finally, I decided that this was an important book for me to own. It was only once I read this article, written by the estimable R.W. Apple Jr. that I even remembered I had this book. I had completely forgotten, and I certainly had no idea that this was literally the book on American regional cuisine. I was gobsmacked.

When I started rooting about for information on Roy Andries de Groot the experience was similarly humbling. I thought I had just picked up a cool cookbook about cooking with the seasons. I had no idea that this guy was a culinary lion in his time.

And now I’m learning about Bert Greene. This cookbook is organized by flavor/aroma. It starts with Almond (more on that soon) and ends with Yeast. It is a seriously engaging read, in fact, almost bloglike in its tone and rhythm. Each chapter opens with a story or reminiscence and each recipe is preceeded by an anecdote. I find it very comfortable, cozy and familiar.

On Sunday night I was pouring over the chapter on basil looking for wonderful things to do with the beautiful plants growing on my window sill. Mr. Greene lolls about in exotic herbal lore in this chapter, emphasizing that in many culture basil is so highly esteemed that it’s never eaten.

In ancient Greece… basil was held to be the only antidote to the venom of the basilisk… In Iran… basil is said to be the only preventative against malaria and the houses of the rich are filled with its green leaves… In other Middle Eastern countries… basil [is] hung over a connubial bed… to bring fertility to a marriage.

But my favorite use mentioned by Mr. Greene has nothing to do with giant serpents, mosquitoes or sex, it is about wine.

In the wine country of Provence they slip twigs of basil into casks of certain dry wines “to calm them.” As a variation on that theme, you might want to consider floating a basil leaf on a spritzer of white wine and soda sometime.

I sat there thinking, “Why Bert, thank you so much kind sir! How is that you knew at just this moment 27 years in the future I would be sitting here drinking what you call a spritzer but I call a bevanda, contemplating uses for the gorgeous basil about two feet to the left of my head?” I turned to the boy, “Hey, whaddaya say to putting a crown of basil in your bevanda?” “Huh?” So I read the passage to him, and he enthusiastically agreed that it sounded delightful.

And it was. We were drinking a beautiful, crisp, minerally, rocky, schisty white that closely approximated the distinctive whites of the Dalmatian coast. I decided that the lime basil would be the best complement (over the Genovese or purple opal). It added an earthy, citrusy, herbal note to the nose and just the tiniest hint of a flavor to the wine.

It felt so glamorous to be sitting at home, relaxing and drinking something so cosmopolitan. I guess good food writing always shines through, and never goes out of style. Thanks Mr. Greene!