It’s now after Memorial Day weekend, and whether the weather is ready or not, the entire garden is in – including the basil and tomatoes.

This is a touchy time of year for the most tender of plants; both tomatoes and basil would probably be happier if we waited for another week or two to put them in. On the other hand, if they don’t go in at or close to this weekend, the chances of actually achieving ripe tomatoes off the vine diminish rapidly.

This year, instead of expecting that the tender ones will just “get tough” and get to the work of growing, I’ve decided rather to accept and respect the delicate nature of these plants and acknowledge the vagaries of the Maine climate.

This means that the basil and tomatoes have protective gear – some sporting plastic covers to keep the heat in; some the odd assortment of chill-fighting cloches.

In a serendipitous collision with the cat when she thought I was going one way and I thought she was going the other, one of the basil plants was broken at the base of the stem. This quickly became a game with the girls and I: What could we make with the basil? We never have it this early. What a treat!

So even though it’s just a little bit out of season, it won’t be but a few short weeks before you’ll be able to lop off the tips of your basil plants to enhance a light summer dinner. Happy cooking to you, and may serendipity find you in your kitchen as well.

FLOUNDER WITH BASIL, CAPERS AND LEMON

In the late summer, once the basil is far beyond its hesitant beginning and when a frost threatens, I pull all of it inside and strip the leaves from the stalks. I make and freeze some pesto, and the rest I place in a jar and cover with olive oil.

As long as the basil leaves are completely covered with the oil, I can have the essence of fresh basil through the better part of the winter. When I scoop leaves from the jar, I add a little oil as necessary to cover the remainder.

For this recipe, you can also dredge the basil leaves in olive oil before draping the fish with them.

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pound flounder fillets; 2 to 3 fillets per person

2 tablespoons basil leaves in oil

A few pinches of kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons capers

Lemon zest from 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Place the flounder on a baking sheet that has been rubbed with olive oil. Drape the basil leaves over the fillets. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the rest of the ingredients. Broil until just before fully cooked through, about 4 to 6 minutes. Flounder is tender and thin, so slight variations in oven broilers or thickness of particular fillets will make a big difference in the timing. Watch carefully.

Servings: Four

 

STEAMED RED POTATOES AND BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Flavored olive oils are a terrific way to infuse a pleasant surprise into an already healthy dish. If you don’t have flavored oil, a fruity olive oil will also work well.

1 pound baby red potatoes

10 ounces Brussels sprouts, quartered; about 4 cups

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons blood orange olive oil or other citrus-flavored olive oil

Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a pan deep enough to receive a steamer or pasta strainer. Place the potatoes in the steamer over the water and cover with a lid. Steam the potatoes until they are almost tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 10 to 15 minutes (depending on how big the potatoes are ).

Add the Brussels sprouts and steam for another 5 to 7 minutes, or until they are tender but still bright green. Transfer to a platter and toss with salt, pepper, lemon and olive oil. Serve immediately.

Servings: Four

 

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea.” She can be reached at: [email protected]