Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sweet Basil

I love basil! Every year I pour a packet of basil seeds into my barrel planter, and we enjoy the lovely leaves throughout the summer.


The seeds germinate in just a few days. Once the tiny plants are an inch or two high, I space them out, gently placing the tender roots into holes poked into the soil with a pencil. A good watering helps them bounce back right away. The packet this year seemed to have fewer seeds than in the past, so there may be less basil to eat and share, but it is looking really pretty and smells so good!

The botanical name for basil is Ocimum basilicum, and it is a member of the family Lamiaceae (mints). Propogation of basil goes back as far as 5000 years, originally native to India and tropical sections of Asia. Basil is usually treated as an annual. Growing basil is easy, and pinching off the flower heads will help promote leaf production and keep your plants growing all season.

To store fresh basil in the kitchen, cut the stems on an angle. Rinse and pat dry between paper towels. Place the bunch of basil into a glass with a couple of inches of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator.

To preserve basil, you can dry the stems either in a food dehydrator or by tying bunches of stems together and hanging in a cool, dry place. You can also freeze the leaves. To do this, blanch them for a few seconds, chill in ice water, pat dry and place in freezer. Another option would be to puree the leaves with olive oil and pour into ice cube trays.

Basil is used mainly in cooking, although some uses in aromatic and items can be found. When adding basil to cooked dishes, always add it just before serving as cooking diminishes it's flavor. The leaves can be snipped with scissors or torn, but I most often do a chiffonade - just roll the leaves together, then cut into narrow slices with a sharp knife. Toss the leaves into pasta sauce or on a salad for great flavor.

Pesto is a great way to use your basil. It’s simply basil, parsley, Parmesan or Romano cheese, pine nuts, garlic and oil blended together. Other nuts such as walnuts or almonds may also be used. The flavor of pesto is great – especially on toasted baguette slices with a bit of cream cheese. There are many pesto recipes in cookbooks and online, so let's all try one!

One of our favorite basil dishes is Caprese Salad - a flavorful mixture of sliced fresh tomatoes, sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and torn basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and seasoned with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. It’s a wonderful summer treat, and is very easy to prepare because it's more of a procedure than an actual recipe.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome. Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

  1. I have used excess basil to make pesto and froze it to use later. Still tasted fresh. I like it on linguine noodles with small pieces of chicken or beef and mushrooms cooked in garlic infused olive oil. Yummy.