Tuesday, June 30, 2009

All About: Basil

Basil is a must for any herb garden, especially an herb garden of a cook. It's essential in Italian cooking as well as southeast Asia (of which, Thai is my favorite). Needless to say, we have 3 types: purple (5), green Italian (4) and Thai basil (3).

Last year I tried to grow Italian basil with disastrous results. First off, I used some clay soil I dug up to my back yard. This was neither the most well-draining nor fertile choice! The basil survived but hardly thrived. This year, I vowed to do things right! That includes:

  1. Good soil. Basil loves well-drained soil rich in organic matter.

  2. Full sun. To thrive, basil needs the heat of summer, but appreciates a bit of afternoon shade around July & August when the summer sun is at its hottest.

  3. Harvest early & often. Harvest as soon as plants have several sets of leaves. Wherever you cut/pinch off, the basil will fork thus becoming more bushy & more productive. About once a month in the summer, do a big harvest and remove about 2/3 of the plant (leave a few sets of leaves at the bottom). The plants will come back bigger & badder than ever in just a few weeks!

  4. Pinch off flowers. I've read that basil is predetermined to flower after they get a certain number of leaf sets. If this is true, then harvesting often or doing one big harvest a month will help prolong the plant's life. If it's not true, just pinch off the flowers, preferably the node below where the flowers are.
Ideas on how to store your excess basil:
  1. Freeze pesto.

  2. Wash, dry, & place into ziploc bags. Place these bags in the freezer.

  3. Chop up basil, mix with a little oil, and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze.

  4. Chop up basil, mix with a little water and pour into ice cube trays. Freeze.
Ideas on creative ways to use basil:
  1. Strawberry-Basil Tea

  2. Basil-Lemon Granita

  3. Basil Gimlet

  4. Bruschetta

  5. Watermelon salad with feta & basil

  6. Basically, anywhere you'd use mint! (basil & mint are related)

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