"With basil then I will begin, Whose scent is wondrous pleasing." -Michael Drayton, 1612
Folklore has it that basil is a sign of love in Italy. If a woman places a pot of basil on her windowsill, she is ready to receive a suitor, and if a man receives a sprig of basil from a maiden, he will fall hopelessly in love with her forever. Although I have never presented a sprig of basil to anyone (other than my kids as I harvest them from my garden!), I definitely fell hopelessly in love with the herb itself. The charming anise or licorice scent of its leaves, the sweet, peppery taste of the herb. Basil is so versatile and can be used cooked, baked, or fresh in dishes, taking on a different flavor profile in each.
Not all basil is created equally, and for that I am thankful because all of them make different, striking additions to my herb garden. Here are some of my favorites:
Purple Ruffles: I grow these as a decoration and a "fragrant-filler" for my bouquets. The color really shines with orange and yellow flowers!
Globe Basil: A bit more spicy than regular basil. I use it as an accent planting in my flower beds, as they take on a rounded-hedge appearance (almost like a topiary!).
Genovese Basil: More fragrant and flavorful than any other I have grown. The green leaves are huge and bountiful, making for a great pesto.
Red Rubin: Filled with flavor and my favorite to add to my salads, herb vinegars, and garnishes.
Once you are hooked on growing herbs, one kind alone is never enough. Somehow, I find room in my garden for each of these basils and every year, they do so well that it could easily become inundated if I do not keep the flowers pinched off. I've learned to take the time to dry my basil or turn it into pesto and I love to give both away as gifts throughout the year. Pesto is not only delicious, but good for you with all the healthy fats included using olive oil and pine nuts. With such a concentration of flavor, a little bit goes a long way.
A tip for storing large quantities of pesto is to freeze them in small ziplock bags, for the most efficient storage and defrosting. Here is the recipe I love to use, one especially easy to prepare in bulk.
In Good Health,
P.S. Basil is essential to anyone's herb collection. Add it to your own at the Bloomers & Bites store.
This is the true taste of mid-summer. Try it in your next pasta dish, or a topping for roasted chicken. Slather some on slices of fresh baguette, topped with bruschetta or sun-dried tomatoes, sprinkled and broiled with freshly grated Parmesan. However you eat it, prepare for explosions of marvelous flavor in each bite.
4 cups coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup pine nuts (½ cup toasted walnuts is a good substitute, or omit them completely if you aren't a fan like me)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Parmesan (freshly grated is best, but you can also use regularly packaged Parmesan)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Using your food processor, add all ingredients except olive oil. Process about 10 seconds.
With the motor running, slowly pour in olive oil and process another 10 seconds, or until oil is absorbed
Stop motor, scrap sides, then process another 5-10 seconds longer. Put pesto in glass jar with lid and over with another drizzle of olive oil to keep pesto fresh. Cover tightly and store in refrigerator for up to one week.
YIELDS 1 CUP