The Nigella Diaries – Basil Oil

The two basil bushes I planted in the Spring have been very generous to us over the summer. Basil has been torn into Asian-style herby salads, topped simple home-made pizzas, been sandwiched between mozzarella cheese and thick slices of tomato for a Caprese salad and chopped into pasta sauces. I’ve also made batches of pesto and frozen it in single-serve portions for the “cooler” weather when the basil isn’t in such a giving mood. It’s perfect to toss through pasta for a quick lunch or to stir into tomato or vegetable soup to add some interest.

My favourite thing to make with pesto, though, is the pesto rice salad in Delia Smith’s Summer Collection that I’ve been making for family barbecues since (I’m going to say this really quickly) the late-90s. What do you do though when you want the taste of pesto but one of your dinner guests is allergic to nuts and pesto is therefore off-limits? You substitute the pesto for Nigella’s Basil Oil of course.

All you need for this is a large bunch of basil (leaves roughly picked or torn off) and about 8-10 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. You blanch the basil quickly by pouring boiling water over the leaves and letting them sit for about 30 seconds. Immediately plunge them into icy water. This way you’ll keep that fabulous green. Squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can and pop them in a small processor with the olive oil – I used the Nutri-bullet. Grate in a clove of garlic and whizz it until you have a thick-ish green puree. That’s it.

To turn it into a pesto, simply reduce the olive oil by a couple of tablespoons and add 1 tablespoon of pine nuts and about 25g grated pecorino romano, parmesan or something similar before blitzing.

This oil is also great drizzled over a Caprese Salad or brushed over zucchini/ courgette slices before barbecuing, but I used most of it in the rice salad. Speaking of which, here is the recipe. Naturally, you can also make this salad with traditional pesto – simply omit the grated cheese and use pesto in place of herb oil.

What you need…

  • 1 quantity basil oil
  • 25g grated pecorino romano, Parmigiano Reggiano or parmesan
  • 450ml boiling chicken or vegetable stock – if you don’t have any stock, water is fine
  • Arborio rice measured to the 220ml mark in a measuring jug
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • Extra cheese shaved with a vegetable peeler for the top
  • Some fresh basil leaves to serve

What you do with it…

  • Measure out the rice into a measuring jug and add about 1/4 of the basil oil to it. Stir until all the grains are coated with the oil.
  • Tip the herby rice into a wide, shallow saucepan or frying pan with a lid and pour the stock over it.
  • Turn on the heat, add a teaspoon of salt and stir well.
  • When it comes to the boil put the lid on, turn the heat down to as low as it goes and let it cook for 20 minutes.
  • As soon as it’s ready, tip it into a serving bowl with most of the remaining basil oil. Stir it through – adding more if necessary – and then add the grated cheese and chopped spring onions, again stirring well.
  • Serve with the shaved cheese and fresh basil leaves.

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

2 thoughts

  1. Hi, Jo – This is a triple win recipe post – basil oil, pesto and rice salad! All are easy to prepare and fit in nicely with my current ‘meatless’ pursuits. Thanks for sharing this here. I am greatly enjoying your Nigella series.

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