29 July 2013

Eats Drinks: basil simple syrup in a bubbly basil gimlet

I’m mixing things up today, dear readers, by replacing Eats with Drinks – that is, a cocktail for these warm summer days.

(Get it? Mixing it up? Ehhh? Oh, forget it.)

Completely tangential story time: Years ago, in the old house, before Mr. P and I were married... I had a basil plant. My reasons for buying it stemmed from the fact that it cost exactly the same as a packet of basil at the grocery, but in theory I would get more basil in the long run. Solid plan, no?

I can’t remember where I got it, exactly, but I do remember buying what seemed like an absurdly large pot and big bag of potting soil, just for this little basil plant. Actually, I first accidentally bought a big bag of this stuff – which is totally not potting soil – and tried to pot it in that before giving up and consulting Google for assistance. Clearly, I had no idea how to deal with this new little houseplant.

I tell you all this because, once I got that itty-bitty basil sprout planted in actual soil in its giant pot, IT REFUSED TO DIE. Instead, it grew to nearly eight times its original height because I never pruned it properly. I’d overwater it and its soil would look questionably fungus-y, but it kept on kicking without me re-potting it. Or I’d forget to water it for weeks until Mr. P would notice the shriveled brown thing and ask when I’d last watered it. I’d give him a blank stare, he’d give it a generous cup full of water, and the little basil plant would happily perk right back up and let me harvest plenty of tasty basil leaves within a week. It took years of abuse and neglect before it finally gave up trying to live with me and died.

Nowadays, every plant I bring into the apartment immediately dies, including a new basil plant. I’m convinced it has nothing to do with my poor gardening skills – hey, the last little basil plant was JUST FINE – and everything to do with the water. Of course.

Anyway! Basil! Surely you, as a far better gardener than me, have a basil plant that’s totally out of control now that it’s summer. Or maybe you have loads of basil in your CSA box. Or maybe, like me, you simply appreciate that basil is super cheap at the grocery store right now. No matter how you get it, let’s turn it into a simple syrup for cocktails!

Many simple syrup recipes are two parts sugar to one part water, but I don’t like super sweet cocktails. So I’ve tinkered with this and come up with a thinner syrup that has lots of basil flavor without tons of sugar. It just needs one cup of white sugar dissolved in one cup of water in a small saucepan.

It won’t all dissolve, but that’s okay – it will once we turn up the heat.

Next I dumped a whole bunch of basil leaves. I used the whole 2/3-ounce package I got at the grocery, which I think was at least thirty leaves.

With all the ingredients in the pan, I turned the heat up to medium-high (leave the lid off). Once it began to boil, I turned the heat back to low and let the whole shebang simmer for ten minutes, stirring occasionally. Finally, after ten minutes, I took the pan off the heat, “muddled” the basil (smooshed it with my spoon in the pan to macerate it a bit), put the lid on the pan, and let it steep for another twenty minutes. After all that, it looked like this:

Then I used my trusty-dusty-rusty strainer and transferred the liquid into a small 12-ounce jar.

Ta-da! Super concentrated, not-too-sweet basil simple syrup!

This will keep in the fridge for a week; after that, I pour it into an ice cube tray and stick it in the freezer indefinitely (at least, until the syrup gets that freezer-burnt taste).

As for what you can use this basil syrup for... You can add this into tea, lemonade, even just water (ooh, with a lemon wedge!). Or follow my lead and make one excellent summer cocktail, something I’m calling a bubbly basil gimlet.

Technically, a gimlet is supposed to be just gin and sweetened lime juice, with maybe some soda if you believe the history books. I’m telling you this because I realize I can hardly call this a gimlet when these are my ingredients:

Lime soda, Seagram’s lime gin (I realize some of you are rolling your eyes, but GO WITH IT), basil simple syrup, and – not pictured – bottled lime juice. Which didn’t make the photo, because I was mad my fresh lime had gone off.

To make the gimlet, I just added six ounces of soda to two ounces of gin, a half-ounce of basil syrup, and a half-ounce of lime juice. You can adjust the gin/soda ratio if you want it a bit more boozy, or add more syrup for a stronger basil flavor (careful that it doesn’t get too sweet, though).

If you remember to use your limes before they go bad, a slice of lime makes an excellent garnish. And if you have a cocktail shaker, this is a great time to use it. I just stirred mine. With a metal chopstick. That I pretend is a swizzle stick.

Ugh. Two things I should never be allowed to do: garden and bartend.

But all my shortcomings aside: this is a delicious drink. It may not look like much (partly because I’m a lazy food photographer who can’t bother to style her dishes), but it makes up for it in flavor. And as I said, the syrup can go in nearly anything else you’re drinking. Go forth and enjoy this perfectly summertime beverage!

Finally, this week’s meal plan, now that Mr. P and I are both back in town and eating at home:

Sunday: pesto shrimp crostini (recipe soon!)

Monday: pasta with sausage and cannellini beans

Tuesday: grilled chicken caesar salad

Wednesday: salsa chicken with rice (recipe soon-ish!)

Thursday: taco salad

Friday: leftovers

Saturday: I ran out of dinner ideas, so I might finagle a dinner date. This is real life.

Have a great week, dear readers!