Posts Tagged ‘Denise Lemay’


Tuesday, August 18th, 2009
The Queens of Basil: Denise and Mary Ellen

The Queens of Basil: Denise and Mary Ellen

My cousin Mardi reported last week that this year’s rainy summer has made the basil in her garden grow to record heights. She asked what she could do with the stuff aside from making pesto and sprinkling it over tomatoes.
I said I would think it over. Little did Mardi know that I had a secret weapon up my sleeve: Stockbridge Farm and its annual Pestopalooza celebration.
Stockbridge Herb Farm in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, is owned by Mary Ellen and John Warchol and Mary Ellen’s sister Denise Lemay. Mary Ellen, Denise, and John grow herbs and market a variety of herbal products to the public.
Every so often they host public events. Their down-to-earth, fun-filled personalities make these offerings entertaining as well as informative.
Last weekend they held their annual salute to basil, Pestopalooza. John showed off his healthy herb patch, which features 40 different varieties of basil. Denise and Mary Ellen cooked under a tent for a couple of hours, demonstrating different uses for basil and pesto.
Naturally, I came home with some plants and herb mixes–and a recipe or two. Mary Ellen and Denise explained that one can add other vegetables to this panzanella, an Italian salad starring bread and fresh tomatoes.
They used red-basil vinegar, but since my basil vinegar is still steeping (more on that in a future post) I suggest using red-wine vinegar as a substitute. Be sure to wash the lemons well and slice them into very thin pieces (organic ones are best) since you’ll be eating them rind and all.
The bread should be at least a day old, preferably a little older; use up your stale bread on this one!
It’s a lovely dish for a warm day on which one can’t be bothered to cook. If you want a little protein, add grilled chicken or tuna.
Panzanella web
1 lemon
1 pound firm, ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks (about 2 cups); the Stockbridge gals used mixed red and yellow/orange
3 to 4 slices hearty sourdough or whole-grain bread, toasted and cut into squares
1/4 cup capers, drained
1 cup fresh basil leaves (use leaves from a miniature basil plant or chop larger leaves coarsely)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red-basil or red-wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
Slice the lemon into paper-thin slices, catching the juice and placing it in a salad bowl. (You may discard the seeds!)
Add the tomatoes, toast cubes, capers, and basil. Drizzle the oil and vinegar over the salad, add the salt and pepper, and toss gently. Let the salad sit for 5 to 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. (Don’t let it sit for more than 2 hours.)
Serves 4 to 6.
Forty Kinds of Basil