Basil is one of the most recognizable everyday herbs. I’ll show you. Close your eyes. I just chopped a few leaves. What do you smell?
Exactly. You smell basil. Basil has a strong fragrance much like its cousins in the mint family, oregano and marjoram. Its sweet scent lends itself to aromatic cooking. You can almost taste it by the smell alone.
There are over 40 varieties some mimic other flavors like lemon basil, licorice basil and cinnamon basil. If you want traditional basil flavor, I recommend Genovese. This variety makes the best pesto, caprese and Margherita Pizza.
Basil is an easy to grow annual if you remember a few things. Basil needs a good light source but not necessarily direct sunlight. Indirect or partial sunlight six to eight hours a day works great. Basil doesn’t like wet feet. Fungus is a common complaint I hear from gardeners. Keep the ground moist and the plant dry when watering. Basil thrives as a companion plant with tomatoes and some say that growing these plants together enhances the flavor of both.
Fertilize every six weeks during the growing season. Pick off developing flowers to keep the plant from bolting, which is a rapid growth spurt plants do as a reproductive last call. Bolting causes the remaining foliage to be bitter tasting.
Use basil fresh, or dry it and store in your freezer.
Here’s a recipe for an easy pesto. Use over pasta, add to rice, mix with mayo for a spread, slather on fish and chicken, you get the idea.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Grind basil and garlic together in a food processor. Add cheese, salt and pepper, mix.
While the machine is running, drizzle in the oil. Grind it until a paste forms.
Pesto is ready for use. Use as is or add extra olive oil to make a thinner sauce.
Do you have questions about basil or other herbs and spices? Email me at email@example.com and I will answer them in an upcoming column.