Sunday, August 16, 2009

Why I grow basil (and you should, too)

1. It's so easy! Grow it in the ground or in a pot, outside or on a sunny windowsill.

2. It's so cheap! A basil plant will often cost you the same as a package of fresh basil at the grocery store -- and it will keep giving you more basil.

3. It's so good! We use basil all summer in cucumber and green bean salads, on pizza and pasta, in my favorite vegetable breakfast dishes.

And then, there's the pesto. For the last couple of years, I've made pesto in August and again on the day of the first predicted freeze. (There's another thing I love -- caring about the first freeze and having a traditional activity to do that day). I cut the basil back to a third of it's size in August and there's still plenty of basil left to make more pesto when the freeze comes about ten or twelve weeks later.

Here's a picture from before I started harvesting today. The Genovese on the right is about four feet tall! The purple basil on the left is a little shorter but very lush and dense. And I thought my purple crocs looked good with all of this.



I was inspired by a recipe on Farmgirl Fare to make a lower fat version of pesto than I did last year. But I still wanted to incorporate the traditional ingredients that were in last year's recipe from Simply Recipes. Also, I leave out the salt and cheese because I prefer adding those to the final dish rather than to the pesto. So, here's the recipe I used today:

Pesto
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
4 ounces basil leaves (Farmgirl says this is about the same as 4 packed cups -- it's easier to weigh)
6 Tablespoons olive oil

In the food processor, coarsely chop the garlic. Then add the pine nuts and basil, processing to the consistency you like. Scrape the bowl down once during processing. While the processor is running, add the oil a little at a time through the chute.

As I described last year, I prefer a quantity that gets me enough pesto to fill two ice cube trays (once they are frozen, I pop the cubes out and store them in freezer bags to use all winter) and a little extra for immediate use. This recipe didn't quite fill one tray, so next time (tomorrow?), I'll triple the recipe. That will be a pretty big project. Today's adventure, though, took less than an hour. Tripling it is unlikely to triple the time although most of the effort goes into removing the leaves from the stems.

Of course, the first question when encountering a recipe like this is "how much basil do I harvest to get 4 ounces?" I don't have enough experience to know, but I got lucky. This is our second largest bowl (we only use the largest for making stuffing for very large birds). Overfilling it with cut basil netted 4.6 ounces of leaves.

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