Sweet Basil & Juniper
A Newburyport native through and through, Dave Becker exudes the good-time vibe associated with the “Cape Cod of the North Shore.”
Although some may describe Dave as a bit kooky, no one can deny his commitment to learning by doing, and recognizing the mistrials along the way. With this mindset, Dave decided after a few years at Davio’s that he needed to go straight to the source to learn the art of authentic Italian cooking. Spending three months working in the Hotel Imperiale in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy, he gained an appreciation for fresh, handmade, artisanal ingredients and the simple preparations which became the essence of Sweet Basil.
When Dave returned to Boston, he decided to pay his old pals at Scandia in Newburyport a visit. And again fortuitously found himself in a kitchen that had just lost its chef. (This guy’s got good juju!). With his loyalty unflagging, Dave took over the role fresh off his Italian adventure and Scandia won Boston magazine’s “Best of Boston” Best Restaurant, North Shore that year.
In 1999, with the desire to become his own boss, Dave began to look for a restaurant to call his own. Upon finding Sweet Basil in Needham, he immediately fell in love with the small-town, neighborly feel of the restaurant and (through a great working relationship with the former owner) was able to make the restaurant his own. Dave opened Sweet Basil in March 2000, at the age of 24, with one room and twenty seats. The instant popularity of the food, comfortable, lively atmosphere and Dave’s infectious charm has since allowed the restaurant to more than double in size to two dining rooms and over 50 seats for the taking.
Dave’s artistic eye appears not only in the presentation of his cuisine, but also in the unique plates and serving dishes used at Sweet Basil, all of which are hand-thrown with local clay and designed by Dave at the free-spirited Brookline pottery studio, Feet of Clay. Dave believes that knowing the potter who creates a restaurant’s artisanal plates will soon become just as important as the farmer sourcing a restaurant’s grass-fed beef, with equal emphasis on local materials and minimal transportation, a trend he has coined the “art-to-table” movement.
In 2014, Dave opened Juniper, a 110-seat Mediterranean eatery in the heart of Wellesley, Massachusetts. Juniper is an extension of Dave’s overall philosophies on work, food and life. With a spirited staff, most of whom “grew up” under Dave’s mentorship at Sweet Basil, Juniper’s menu pulls inspiration from what Dave calls the “feel good flavors” of the Eastern Mediterranean and continues his strong focus on all things local, sustainable and handmade. At Juniper, housemade couscous, homemade phyllo dough and unique flavor combinations signature to Dave’s generously portioned cooking style stand out on the restaurant’s seasonally changing menu, while dim lighting, lush greenery and colorful flea market finds transport guests to a funky Eastern Mediterranean bistro.
Ever the artiste, Dave has taken his passion to the page as well, self-publishing two cookbooks with food photographer Nina Gallant. Released in 2008, Thrown Out Of An Italian Kitchen, Recipes from Sweet Basil provides a snapshot of the experience of dining and working at the Italian-inspired eatery. His sophomore effort, Stewed (January 2013), is a collection of irreverent, handmade takes on classic soups, braises and stews from Sweet Basil.
In cooking and in life, Dave adheres to his own motto of “Cook what you like to eat, and never ever listen to anyone who tries to tell you what you should or should not enjoy.”
Sweet Potato Arancini
Serves 4-6 people
- 3 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 cups white onions, diced
- 1 box (14oz) Carnaroli long grain Italian rice
- Brie cheese (cut into dime sized cubes)
- 4 cups bread crumbs
- 3 eggs
- 1 tbsp. curry powder
- 1 tsp. cayenne powder
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 cup Asiago cheese, grated
- Salt and pepper, to taste
In a 3-4 quart sauce pan, sauté 2 cups of onions in extra virgin olive oil until translucent. Add box of Carnaroli rice to 7 cups of water and bring to a boil. Constantly stir so rice doesn’t stick to sides. Once boiling, turn off the heat and cover for 10 minutes. After, stir the rice and let it rest for additional 10 minutes covered. Let rice cool while starting the next process.
Peel 3 medium sweet potatoes and cut in small cubes. Roast in 400 degree oven with olive oil, salt and pepper until fork tender (about 10-15 minutes). Let cool. In a big mixing bowl, add cooked rice, roasted sweet potatoes, curry powder, chili powder, cayenne powder, asiago cheese, 3 eggs, 2 cups bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Mix this all together. If it is still too wet, add more cheese or bread crumbs as needed.
Form desired sized Arancini balls and stuff brie cheese in the center of the formed ball. Roll in bread crumbs and fry Arancini until golden brown.
Sweet Potato Sauce
Serves 4-6 people
- 1 large sweet potato
- Water or vegetable stock
- Small handful of fresh sage
- 1 cup whiskey
- 1 cup apple cider
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Peel the sweet potato and cut into cubes. Roast in oven at 400 degrees until fork tender (about 10-15 minutes). Let cool. In a blender, combine roasted sweet potato, sage, apple cider, whiskey and water or vegetable stock. Puree in blender until desired consistency and add salt and pepper to taste. When ready to serve, add pureed sweet potato sauce in a pan with butter, cream, and parsley for color. Heat up and serve with Arancini.