June 11, 2010

Basil - Easy and Useful

Basil is one the easiest and most useful herbs to grow. It needs sun but will tolerate some shade. Plant in well drained soil.It doesn't need a lot of water. I grow it in containers because I don't have a big sunny space for it in my yard. Recently, I planted a big drift of Genovese Basil in my front flowerbed, one of the few sunny places I have. I really don't want to run out of Pesto this year! Most of my veggies are grown in containers (see my post on container gardening) and I plant Basil with my tomatoes and squash. Basil improves the flavor of tomatoes and protects them from tomato horn worms too.

This year I grew all my Basil plants from seed and it was a snap! I planted Genovese, Sweet Basil, Lettuce leaf and Dark Purple Opal (these seeds were a gift from my friend, Joni, at work). Joni is a fellow gardener and friend who knew just the thing to give me for my birthday. The seeds were started in flats under lights in my basement and they germinated in about 3 weeks. After the danger of frost was over, I moved the flats outside in the shade for a week and made sure they didn't dry out. Next the little plants were potted up into 3 inch pots to grow some more. I sold a bunch of these and the rest went into my containers and yard. In addition to the ones I grew, I purchased a Tai Basil plant from a local herb sale I attended. I like it's spicy flavor and hopefully I will be able to save some seeds for next year.

Not only is basil good for seasoning but according to Wikipedia it has medicinal properties too. "Scientific studies have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, anti-cancer, antiviral, and anti-microbial properties. In addition, basil has been shown to decrease the occurrence of platelet aggregation and experimental thrombus in mice. It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in India. In Siddha medicine, it is used for treating pimples on the face, but noted that intake of the seeds in large quantities is harmful for the brain."

There are several way to preserve basil. One of my favorite ways is to pack it tightly in freezer bags (after it is rinsed and drained on paper towels). When you are ready to use it just break off as much as you need and return the rest to the freezer. Another easy way is to dry the leaves in a dehydrator or in a hot, preferably dark, dry area such as an attic. I keep dried basil in jars in my freezer.

Following are two of my favorite Basil recipes:

1/4 cup pine nuts or almonds
6 to 9 cloves garlic
5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon course sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Place the pine nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process for 30 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper. With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed. Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute. Serve, or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.

Basil Pasta Salad
I package Tri-color pasta
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves packed
1 red pepper
1 small red onion
2 tables. fresh parsley or cilantro
1/4 cup green olives (pitted)
1/4 cup ripe olives (pitted)
1cup cherry tomatoes
1 teas. fresh chopped oregano
fresh ground pepper and sea salt to taste
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup freshly graded Parmesan or Asiago cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking chop the basil, pepper, onion and parsley. When pasta is done rinse it under cold water and place in a colander to drain. In a large bowl combine pasta, chopped veggies, olives, cherry tomatoes, seasonings and toss to mix. Drizzle with olive oil and top with cheese. Serve with warm Italian bread and olive oil/Balsamic vinegar dip.


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  2. Oh you have a purple basil! I've been looking for one of those for months. I guess it's not available in my area.