Basil is my second favourite herb, right behind lavender. I love the way basil smells and tastes. I like the many ways to use it – as a culinary herb, invigorating tea herb and, in a minor way, a cosmetic and health herb.
Basil is considered one of the Italian herbs with basil and tomato an unbeatable combination. It really perks up a tomato soup, pizza or any other tomato-based dish. Basil is the main ingredient for pesto and makes an energizing broth-like tea. Omelets, scrambled eggs, salads, rice dishes, mushroom dishes are all enhanced by the addition of basil.
Growing and Harvesting Basil:
Basil is an easy to grow annual in the garden in summer and a good choice for the windowsill garden in winter.
- Basil is harvested from the top down, leaving the lower portion to keep growing.
- The best time to cut herbs is just before they flower.
- When cutting herbs, timing is everything – there can’t be any dew left on the plants and the sun can’t yet have evaporated the oil – so midmorning is usually the best time.
- The oil is what gives the herb its flavour and aroma – it is fragile and quick to disappear, so herbs should only be picked at the time they’re to be used, which is why the cut herbs bought in the store will never equal the quality of the herbs grown at home.
The leaves can be frozen, dried or preserved in vinegar. Handle herbs carefully to avoid releasing the oils; use a salad spinner to quickly wash herbs in very cold water, spin dry, and empty onto paper towel to absorb leftover moisture, then proceed:
- To Freeze:Preferred method:
- Basil Leaves: Place whole herbs in freezer bags and freeze.
- Chopped Basil: Spoon into ice cube trays or paper cups, cover lightly with olive oil. When frozen, remove and place in freezer bags.
- To Dry: Place herbs in single layer on cookie sheet. Preheat oven to 150F – turn off when temperature is reached – place the herbs in oven – reheat oven to 120F – 150F once a day to keep the oven warm while the herbs drying. Once they’re dry remove from oven, store in tightly closed paper bags in a cool, dry place. Herbs can also be dried in the microwave and while this will be faster, there is a danger that the herb will be ‘cooked’, which removes the oil. I know the theory but frankly I’ve never had much luck drying herbs – freezing is easier and maintains better herbal quality.
- Basil Vinegar:
- Vinegar: 1 cup fresh herbs to two cups rice vinegar. Bruise herbs a bit, place in clean, sterilized jars, pour vinegar over the herbs, cover tightly, then store in a dark place at room temperature. Shake once a day, then after a week or so, check to see if its strong enough. If yes, strain and put into a clean, sterilized container, seal tightly, and store in dark place. If no, let steep for a while longer until taste is as desired. Use for salad dressing, to marinate meat or to add to stews.
- Basil Bath Vinegar:Vinegar is good for all skin types as it restore the skin’s ph balance. Fill a clean, sterilized jar with fresh basil leaves, cover with apple cider vinegar and leave for one or two weeks. Strain into a clean jar with lid or stopper and cover tight. To use, add half a cup to a tubful of water for a re-energizing bath.
Books tell you not to wash the herbs but to wipe the leaves with a barely damp towel. I found that using my salad spinner to wash herbs works like a charm – you just have to work fast and try not to bruise the herbs. The Spicy Globe Basil and Thai Basil that I like have such tiny leaves it would be impossible to wipe.
Favourite Basil Uses:
Basil Tea: Bring 1 cup cold water to a boil for every tablespoon of fresh basil (1 teaspoon dried), chopped fine. Pour the boiling water over the herb and let steep for 10 minutes – use a teapot with lid to prevent the essential oils from escaping. This tastes more like a broth than other teas, which makes it a lovely reviving mid-afternoon drink.
Place in blender:
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- ¾ cup parmesan cheese
- Optional: Add ½ cup walnuts or pine nuts or raw sunflower seeds.
- Optional: Add 1 cup parsley or spinach
- ¾ cup good olive oil
Blend all ingredients while slowly adding the olive oil until you have a thick paste
Makes enough for a 454g. pack of penne. To prepare follow package instructions. Toss drained penne with pesto and serve. A cup of cooked, cubed chicken can be added.
Also good with Spaghetti, New Potatoes, Salmon or as a Dip for Toast Fingers.
Do not heat pesto, it is served at room temperature.
Pesto can be frozen – fill paper cups with pesto, remove when frozen and place in plastic freezer bags. To bring to room temperature, just pop the frozen pesto back into the same type of cup to thaw – no muss, no fuss.
- Basil Pesto is a great sauce to experiment with. I’ve added kale (good), avocado (good for breakfast toast if you leave out the garlic), edamame (different but good), and sun-dried tomatoes (yummy).
- Pine nuts are the most common nut called for in pesto recipes but since they are horribly expensive, pistachios (first choice), almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds can be used instead.
- Instead of the Parmesan cheese, try something different.
- Replace the penne with other pastas, rice, quinoa or new potatoes.
- Use as a spread for salmon or chicken before roasting.
- Makes a great dip for crackers and toast fingers.
Have fun creating your own version of basil pesto. Who knows, you may come up with a winner.
Talk to you again soon
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