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This Magical Basil Cream Sauce Doesn’t Need Any Cream

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A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else: flavor, creativity, wow factor. That means five ingredients or fewer—not including water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (like oil and butter), since we’re guessing you have those covered. Psst, did you hear we’re coming out with a cookbook? We’re coming out with a cookbook!


Years ago, so they say, if a woman plopped a basil plant on her windowsill, it was a signal for
her lover to come hither, the herbal precursor to texting “you up?” I’d like to think this summery pasta sauce has a similar effect.

It works with whatever shape you want—or whatever shape your special-someone wants—be that orecchiette or rigatoni, linguini or pappardelle, ramen or udon. This unabashedly green sauce charms everyone.

There are many basil cream sauces out there, and just about all of them include basil and cream. Also: onion, garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, chicken broth, lemon, other herbs, and even bread crumbs.

This recipe includes the basil, yes, but none of the other ingredients. Not even the heavy cream (or light cream or half-and-half or milk). Instead, it ushers in something else, something just as satisfying and lip-smacking, yet also dairy-free—cashews.

Photo by Linda Xiao. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Sam Senevinatre.

Vegan cookbook author Gena Hamshaw calls cashew cream “one of the most powerful tools that any vegan home cook can have in his or her arsenal.” I’d argue the same for any not-vegan home cook, too.

While other nut milks mandate lengthy soaking (who has the time?) and cheesecloth straining (who has the cheesecloth?), cashew cream couldn’t care less. The nuts are soft enough that a 30-minute bath does the trick. And you don’t need a fancy blender to yield something velvety enough to skip straining altogether.

It’s a still-creamy, not-heavy, just-right backdrop for an obscene amount of greenery. Quickly blanched to set its color (we need that boiling water anyway for the pasta), then chucked into a blender, the basil is no longer an herby accent to a creamy sauce. It is the sauce.

With a very dry, very cold white wine—or bubbly, why not?—it’s my idea of an ideal summer date night. Justin, are you reading this?

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