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Hey Pesto! Purple basil pesto – the new food trend taking over the UK

Purple basil is being embraced by foodies everywhere, and it looks set to become a big food trend in 2018 as demand for Instagram-worthy food increases.

Leading the way with the purple basil phenomenon is ASK Italian, which commissioned a crop of the purple plants from a small family-owned basil farm in the Verona countryside in order to produce more than three tonnes of pesto for its 160 UK restaurants. Purple basil was invented in Piedmont, northern Italy, as a better looking alternative to its green friend, and it makes a beautifully coloured pesto to make any dish Instagram worthy.

Purple basil is still being produced on a fairly small scale and although you can buy it in seed form in garden centres in the UK, it is still relatively unheard of.

Head of Food at ASK Italian, Jeena Rodrigues, told us: “We’re always looking for ways to elevate our most loved dishes, and purple basil pesto is the perfect combination of classic Italian flavours and Instagram-worthy presentation. Working with the farmers in Verona, we’re able to give the beautiful herb the close care and attention that it requires for high-quality production.”

The Wine & Dine team were invited to try purple basil pesto for ourselves at ASK’s York restaurant for the launch of the autumn menu.

ASK Italian is situated on Blake Street in the stunning Assembly Rooms and I can honestly say it’s worth going to the restaurant just to view the building itself, which has recently undergone a £400,000 refurbishment carried out by the York Conservation Trust. The Assembly Rooms were originally built in 1730 to provide accommodation for high class social gatherings and it’s not hard to see why. Although the building is now a restaurant buzzing with couples, families and chatter, it is reminiscent of a bygone era and you do find yourself drifting out of conversations and gazing around the building.

We were lucky enough to try everything on the new autumn menu and, along with a few perfectly blended gin cocktails (obviously), we genuinely loved it all! Due to ASK being a chain, I didn’t expect the food to be of fine dining standard, rightly or wrongly, but in actual fact… it was.

A particular favourite was the the Antipasti Fritto, a selection of calamari, chicken, mushrooms al forno and zucchini fritte. The Pumpkin Arancini, which I would never normally have chosen, was delicious; crispy risotto and pumpkin balls served with a spicy tomato dip. The Tuscan bean soup was wonderfully warming, as was the sausage cannelloni – hearty Italian sausages baked in a tomato and basil sauce.

The purple basil pesto featured in the Genovese pasta and the garlic bread speciale and I do think it packs a bigger punch than its green pesto friend and, of course, the dishes looked simply stunning with its deep purple colour.

Desserts are not normally my bag but the yoghurt panna cotta with edible flower was a perfectly sweet hit. For a bit of theatre, go for the Chocolate Etna, a rich, dark chocolate cup filled with vanilla gelato, which has hot toffee sauce poured over it at the table – mouth-watering!

A lovely touch is that diners can spread the purple basil love, literally, with free grow-your-own purple basil seed packs to take home.

Paul Tennant, ASK Italian’s General Manager for York, was extremely knowledgeable on the many small batch spirits behind the bar and he was the master behind the beautiful cocktails we had on the evening, which included a ‘peach v+t’, a blend of craft vodka, peach schnapps and tonic and an ‘elderflower g+t’, a refreshing mix of small batch gin, elderflower cordial and tonic, garnished with a fresh rosemary sprig. The freshly made lemonade was also a tangy hit. Other cocktails on the menu include a tropical mojito; rum, mango, passionfruit and lemon juice, and a very seasonal Christmas cranberry mojito; rum, lemon, lime and cranberry juice garnished with fresh mint.

Paul told us: “I started at ASK Italian nine years ago, and have worked my way up from starting in Livingston as a waiter to becoming the general manager here in our beautiful York restaurant. Whilst York’s been closed I’ve even been looking after an area in the South of England. It’s testament to a committed team and great support network within ASK Italian that we’ve got the same great team here again now that we’ve re-opened. It’s great to be back, and we can’t wait for the next few months!”

We’ll be back!

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