Plucking Leaves

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by alexia, Sep 17, 2002.

  1. alexia

    alexia

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    OK, anyone can chime in, but chefs have time/speed constraints that a home chef doesn't, so I'm particularly expecting a solution to my question from you. Don't disappoint me, please. Oh if only I'd had an Italian grandmother... As it is, I'm teaching my Italian DIL a lot of Italian dishes. :D

    The other day, making pesto, it took only a few minutes to toast the pine nuts and prep and mince the garlic and pignoli in the processor. :) I didn't grate the cheese as this pesto is destined for the freezer and will go in later.

    BUT: it took FOREVER to clean the 3 bunches of basil and then pluck off the leaves to eliminate having the stems in the pesto. I then wrapped the leaves in paper towels to remove excess water. :(

    Is there a quicker way to do this? Am I being too compulsive in eliminating ALL the stems? Should I just get rid of the really thick ones and chop up the rest with the leaves? (I've seen instructions to use only the smallest tender leaves, but at $1/bunch, I'm compromising.) I can't believe that in a busy kitchen they take this long to prepare the basil leaves!
     
  2. cape chef

    cape chef

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    Like some other herbs like thyme,oregano and rosemary for example,basil doesn't "strip" as well when holding the stem and pulling towards the root end.

    It does take a bit of time to pick the leaves,but not really that long.

    Using only the leaves is the way to go, as far as only using the "tender" leaves,i wouldn't worry about that.

    When basil is super fresh and not started to bud the flavor will be consistent throughout the herb.
     
  3. alexia

    alexia

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    Drat, I was hoping I was just doing it the dumb way, not the only way. Thanks Brad
     
  4. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    I have a hunch you're already doing this, but in case you're not....

    Stack up a few leaves in the one hand lined up at the base. Pinch through all of their stems at once.

    Phil
     
  5. alexia

    alexia

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    Phatch, Actually, when I take the leaves off their individual "branches," I pinch through the stem at the base of the leaf with my nail. Next time I'll try stripping them, then destemming. I suspect it will be as much time to collect, align, then cut off the stems - but I'm always open to finding a better way.

    I think your suggestion will probably work pretty well with things like spinach and chard where each leaf is already separated or can be cut from the root with a single stroke. Except there, with the larger stems, I often pull them out from within the leaf.

    This is one of those tasks I wont stand for anymore - I pull up a stool and settle in. :)
     
  6. suzanne

    suzanne

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    At least it smells wonderful! beats the h*** out of cleaning calamari. ;)
     
  7. foodnfoto

    foodnfoto

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    Amazing the things we talk about here!

    Try using a pair of very sharp scisssors. Start by holding the thick end of the stem in your left hand and with open scissors, shear your way up the stalk. Turn the stem a quarter turn and repeat. Just watch the leaves fall away from the stems.

    Food stylists use a particular brand of scissors called "Joyce Chen" shears. They have short, narrow blades and large, padded handles and are sharp as the dickens!. They can do heavy cutting, like through dowels, or very fine snipping, like just the curly tips of parsley leaves--both with excellent precision.

    After a few years of use, they do become dull, but at only $20 a pair, they are worth it. I wouldn't be without them. I'm always amazed at how infrequently chefs use a pair of scissors or shears. Heck, if a tool works and makes the job faster, easier and more precise, why not use it?
     
  8. alexia

    alexia

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    Of course! it sounds so obvious once it's said! Scissors. I do use them for chives and clipping herbs from my little herb garden.

    I'll try them, starting with the ones I have. I'll check out Chen's later.

    What a wonderful bunch. No problem is too great or too trivial.
     
  9. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    Oh, I see. When I buy "fresh" basil at the store, it's just the individual leaves with their stem, not a stalk of still-attached basil. Yes, when you have the stalk, scissors are a good idea. The rosemary, thyme and oregan are still on the branch, but not the oregano or mint.

    Different market regions do it differently....

    Phil
     
  10. alexia

    alexia

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    Phatch, yes market practices vary greatly.

    I buy my basil (usually organic) at my food coop - not only on the stem, but sometimes with the roots as well. And the dirt. I'm not sure whether it helps keep the basil fresher longer or whether it's just easier for them to pack it that way.
     
  11. pongi

    pongi

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    Here I am, another time more speaking of Pesto! :p
    Alexia,
    here in Genoa basil stalks are always sold whole, with their roots packed up with wet sawdust to keep them fresh for a longer time (in any case, if you really can't use them the same day, never keeping them more than a couple of days in the refrigerator it's my advice).
    As you may know, basil leaves should be never cut with a blade as they're fastly oxidized by metals. This is just the reason why all the Pesto recipes recommend the use of a mortar. Of course, most people have no time enough for that, so the use of a processor can be admitted...but personally I never cut them with scissors. Why starting their oxidization so early? All considered, you cannot waste all that time if you do the job with your hands...
    BTW, I always add the grated cheese before freezing Pesto. Both grated Parmesan and Pecorino cheese can be easily frozen! When I buy (or get as a present) a large amount of Parmesan I always freeze it, partly cut in pieces and partly already grated in plastic bags, and the result is very good.

    Pongi
     
  12. alexia

    alexia

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    So Pongi, we've come full circle? I might as well keep plucking the leaves off the stem, after all, since I'm lucky enough to get it roots and all? I do make it the same day I buy the basil. I don't think there's any leafy green on earth that's improved by sitting overnight in the fridge. I have the luxury of being able to shop every day if I choose and fair access to really fresh foods.

    When you make large amounts of pesto do you use a mortar or a processor? I make mine in the processor and it still turns out a lovely bright green. Maybe because I hand pluck the leaves? :D

    I have a really good Italian deli that has wonderful Parmesan, so I usually only get it in about 1 lb amounts and don't freeze it unless I'm going out of town. I've finally found the best way to store it is loosely wrapped in the butcher paper inside a zip bag (where I keep the grater, too) with a lot of air zipped in with the cheese.
     
  13. adenoma

    adenoma

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    I, too, freeze my pesto after adding the cheese (sometimes Parmesan, sometimes Romano, and often, now that I can find it readily, Asiago). It works out perfectly, and I can make large batches during the basil season.
    As to scissors, I use them constantly. I snip parsley with a scissors, and often use them to shred ramp leaves or garlic tops, as well as the tops of green onions (which I'm fond of mixing with sour cream for use on certain vegetables). Moreover, on the days when I'm so up to my ears that I haven't time to cook and want to do something sinfully indulgent, I use a larger scissors to separate the slices of a pizza ordered in. Works much better than a knife or any other instrument I've ever tried.
     
  14. pongi

    pongi

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    Alexia,
    no doubt your hand plucking is the best way to get a nice green color :D :D ...hand-crushing would give even a better color, but I must honestly admit that generally I too haven't got time enough to use the mortar and use the processor, mainly if I have to prepare large amounts of Pesto (MORE, I also must admit that my MIL makes a wonderful Pesto, so I have to make my own only seldom;) )
    I too like more buying small amounts of Parmesan, but since we often have special offers and/or get large amounts as a present :), freezing it can be a necessity...

    Pongi
     
  15. alexia

    alexia

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    It's fun to explore all the little quirks in our cooking techniques here, learning how others do the details and sharing my own personal kitchen tricks with others who enjoy it.

    My sons and I all have the habit of talking about how things can/should be done, whether cooking or construction (we're into rehabing, too). And as we go on about the minutiae of process or materials, I can see my poor DILs' eyes begin to glaze - particularly the one who doesn't even pretend to like to cook.