After working, taking care of kids, and running errands, the last thing almost anyone wants to do is figure out what is for dinner.  Instead of spending more money on unhealthy food, have a few easy and healthy go-to weekday dinner plans.  Cooking does not have to be difficult, and summer is just around the corner.  It is time for farmers markets, fresh tomatoes, and basil in your garden.  Enjoy your summer dinners by using fresh herbs such as basil to make your meals easy, tasty, and nutritious.  Instead of having to hit the store every day, get fresh herbs straight from your garden.  Below are three easy and healthy basil recipes.

tomato-basil-salad

1.       Simple and Delicious Tomato and Basil Salad

Cooking does not get much easier than this.  Note that it is important to use ripe tomatoes that are in season.  The recipe can easily be adjusted to serve between two and several dozen people.

6 small servings of salad

Ingredients:

  • Several ripe heirloom tomatoes
  • Several basil leaves, coarsely torn
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Shortly before serving, slice the tomatoes and arrange them on a plate facing up.  Lightly drizzle the olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the tomatoes.  Top the tomatoes with the basil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

pesto-sauce

2.       Easy Pesto Sauce

Pesto sauce is a way to make spring and summer pasta dishes more festive.  When stored in airtight containers, this sauce will last about 6 months in the freezer.  Freezing sauce in individual containers is highly recommended as the sauce takes time to make and is better when made in larger quantities.

8 cups of sauce

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ cup pecorino cheese, grated
  • 2 ½ cups parmesan, grated
  • Salt

Boil basil leaves for 5 seconds or until wilted, drain, squeeze out excess liquid, and set aside.  Blanche the garlic.  Coarsely chop the basil.  Place the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil in a large bowl.  Use a hand mixer to blend into a coarse sauce.  Stir in the cheeses, and season with salt to taste.  Put extra sauce in small airtight containers for later use.

The easiest way to turn pesto sauce into a complete meal is to make quick pasta.  By having extra sauces on hand, dinners can be as easy as boiling pasta water and reheating the sauce in a microwave or on the stovetop.  Homemade sauces are quick and easy in addition to being cost-effective.

shell-pasta-art

3.       Shell Pasta With Creamy Basil Sauce 

This recipe tastes very similar to a traditional Alfredo Sauce.  By using yogurt instead of heavy cream, this pasta is healthier without sacrificing taste.  The fresh basil and feta give this dish more interesting and subtle flavors along with a great, creamy texture.   Eliminating the chili flakes can make this dish more kid-friendly.  For people that like more of a kick, extra hot Syrian or Turkish chili flakes can make the dish even better.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 2/3 cups olive oil + a few tbsp. extra
  • 1 lb. bag frozen peas
  • 1 lb. pasta
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 2 tsp. chili flakes (adjust to taste)
  • 1 2/3 cups coarsely torn basil leaves
  • ½ cup feta cheese
  • Salt and pepper

Place the Greek yogurt, olive oil, and ¼ cup of the peas into a food processor.  Blend into a uniform sauce and transfer to a large mixing bowl.  Cook the pasta according to the directions until al dente.  Fry the chili flakes, pine nuts, and some of the peas in olive oil for about 4 minutes.  Drain the pasta and shake well.  Add the pasta gradually to the yogurt sauce while stirring constantly to avoid curdling.  Note: adding the pasta all at once might cause the yogurt sauce to split.  Immediately before serving, add the basil, and feta.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  As a last step, pour the pine nuts and oil mixture over the top of the dish.

Have a better life by eating better food

One of the best ways to make healthy food taste better is to put in a little extra effort and add herbs such as basil instead of preservatives.   Take advantage of summer produce that is readily available.  Who knows?  You might fool the guests at your next dinner party or potluck into thinking that you went to culinary school by understanding flavor profiles and cooking easy, delicious food with fresh herbs from your garden.

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