I recently acquired a bottle to TOPO Piedmont Gin, which is produced near the Chapel Hill-Carrboro line in a building that used to rattle and hum with the sounds of newspaper production. My affinity for such places is strong, and my historic conviction that all gin smells like Pine-Sol has been shattered by this fairly mild sip – which has been described by those in the know as “not juniper forward.”Working under the principle of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing – a phrase credited to Einstein, whose cocktail preferences remain a mystery to Google (though it did try to connect “Manhattan”) – I made the bold leap in home mixology by substituting gin in a beverage for which I might otherwise instinctively have reached for vodka.
In fact, thanks to some lovely, suddenly very much in-season strawberries, I specifically created this cocktail in the hope that it would be an appealing complement to gin’s inherently herbaceous nature.
It turned out so good – and was just as promising on the second batch as the first – that I have to admit I forgot to fully document my triumph at the time. Thankfully, the reporter in me reflexively wrote down a few notes, so herewith is my Strawberry-Basil Martini. It takes a little bit of planning, but just a little bit. And if you’re not confident about using gin, try it a splash of your standby vodka. The strawberry puree also is quite good stirred into bubbly soda water.
Strawberry Puree2 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
juice of 1 lemon
several strips of zest
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Place chopped strawberries, lemon juice, zest and sugar into medium stock pot. Toss to coat then cover and allow to macerate for at least 30 minutes.Simmer on low heat about 20 minutes until syrupy and very fragrant. Turn off heat and remove zest. Add 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and puree with an immersion blender (or cool slightly then puree in a blender).
Place 5 ice cubes in a sealable quart jar. Pour in strawberry puree. Swirl to blend; when no longer warm, place in refrigerator to fully chill.
Strawberry-Basil MartiniMakes 2
Strawberry pureeMake a simple syrup by heating ½ cup of sugar in ½ cup of water. Bring to a low boil and stir until sugar crystals dissolve. Transfer to a small jar and cool; lid jar and transfer to refrigerator.
Fresh-picked basil leaves
Fresh-picked basil leaves
Place 5-6 basil leaves in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Muddle aggressively.Fill shaker about 2/3 full with ice. Add 1 jigger of strawberry puree, 2 jiggers of gin and 1 jigger of simple syrup. Shake it like to you mean it.
Strain into two martini glasses and garnish with a small basil leaf. Go outside to admire your garden and say to yourself, “My life is good.” Repeat; or, if for some strange reason you son does not appreciate its subtleties, drink his.