Tuesday, March 22, 2011

B is for Basil or it could be O too!

A while back (not saying how long) Becca from A Southern Garden by Becca mentioned she wanted me to discuss what herbs I had planted in my garden and how I used them.  Well, Becca, you are a lucky woman because as I can see by yesterday's post, you already have planted your basil!  It looks beautiful and healthy.  We won't be able to plant basil until at least mid-May and maybe not until June!  Here is a quick lesson on basil.

Basil  Ocimum basilicum  In the above photo, I have given you my favorite book about basil.  Thomas DeBaggio was an herb gardener extraordinaire who just passed away in late February.  He was a class act and knew the ins and outs of herbs growing them for his herb farm in Virginia for many years.  He teamed up with one of my favorite modern herb authors, Susan Belsinger on this book about basil.  Susan lived in Italy for a number of years.  When you think of basil, you always think of Italy first.  It is funny to think that basil is not native to Italy, but to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean and South America.  It came to Europe about 2,000 years ago and was used more for its alleged supernatural powers than for culinary uses.  What I like about the book is that it talks about the individual varieties of basil and then the recipes in the back of the book take some of those basils and uses them in ways you may not be thinking.

I also want to give a link to my fellow guest blogger at The Herb Companion, Ramona Werst from Texas who is passionate about her basil and may be a great link for all of my southern readers.  She also has a free 25 page e-book about teaching you to Love Your Basil.

There are between 30 and 150 basil species.  Maybe more.  I have grown a lot of them.  My favorites to grow and use are sweet basil of different varieties, including 'Pistou' and 'Boxwood', they both are small leaf and small size basils, cinnamon and lemon basils for jellies.

In the summer we use whole sweet basil leaves paired with tomato slices, feta cheese and black olives and balsamic vinegar and olive oil and maybe some avocado.
Then there always has to be a pizza or two.
I'm not sure what is on this pizza, but we just sprinkle sweet basil leaves chopped up after it comes out of the oven.  You can put chopped basil leaves on just about any pizza whether you make it or not.

Here is my favorite Pesto recipe.  It's from the Cheap Thrills Cuisine and Washington Post.  At the link, you can find most of their recent recipes.  I think maybe from 2000 onwards.

Presto it's Pesto
You'll need a food processor a blender.
Pick 4 cups of fresh basil leaves.
Put 2 cups of basil in processor with 1/2 cup of olive oil.
Puree on pulse speed.
Add 6 large peeled garlic cloves and puree again. (I only use a clove or two at the most.  Add all 6 if you can tolerate the garlic.)
Stir in 1/2 cup of pine nuts.  Puree.
Add the remaining basil leaves.  Pulse until it forms a runny paste.
Season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese.
Recipe makes one cup of spicy pesto sauce.
Use as a base for cheese pizzas.
Try on garlic bread.
Pesto's great as a flavor enhancer for sauces.  Just a 1 teaspoon or so livens a sauce.

This recipe is easily cut in half.

Growing Basil

Because we are cold here in southwestern Pennsylvania at night sometimes until mid to late May, you need to wait to plant basil seeds or plants until the last minute.  The soil temperature needs to be at least 50 degrees and may be more like 55 to 60 degrees before you can plant it.  I have planted my basil plants early some years and have not lost them, but they just don't grow.  They literally pause until the weather warms up.  If  your area is expecting frost, don't plant them until the danger of frost is past.  Even temperatures in the 40's is too cold.  You will have to cover them or bring them inside.  If you are planting seeds, you should start them inside about April 1 or so.  They should be ready to plant around May 15th and even two weeks later will be OK.  This information is only for the herb gardeners in the Mid-Atlantic area.  For all of you in the deep south like Becca, you can plant now, lucky you!  We don't have that much space and time to start seeds, so we generally buy our plants.

Harvesting Basil

You want to start clipping your plants frequently to keep them from going to flower and then seed.  In my experience, lemon basil quickly goes to flower, so you must keep clipping flowers and make sure that it doesn't not flower too quickly.  The Herbal Husband suggested that I clipped the leaves every few days and make jelly.  I did that with great success.  The smell as you are clipping is just the best.  Lemon basil and cinnamon basil were the most jellies I made last year.  I had several plants of each and it worked out very well.

Here is the link for the scented basil jelly recipe from Renee's Garden.
You can also harvest leaves and process them with some water and place them in ice cube trays and freeze them for winter use.

Insects and Diseases of Basil 

Unfortunately four-lined plant bug does like basil, but again the damage is mostly cosmetic and there is only one generation a season.  I usually don't have any other problems.  Here is a link for Johnny's Seeds grower's library about 3/4 of the way down, click on Basil Diseases.  This pamphlet talks about insects and diseases of basil.  Fusarium wilt can be a problem with sweet basil only so be sure to get fusarium resistant seeds because the disease is spread through contaminated seeds.  It does not seem to affect the specialty basils.

Because I can't have large quantities of tomato sauce any longer, this is my go to recipe when I have spaghetti.  I need to run make our lunch.  I made myself hungry!  I'll add more to this post later.
It isn't raining or snowing out either so we are going to work in the garden this afternoon.  The first daffs are up!  Yippee!  Talk to you soon.


Unknown said...

Awesome post! I wish we could plant these sooner than May/June as it is the ultimate herb. Even love it in cocktails.

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

Thanks ONG! Wish I could have cocktails! Have one for me! More later!

Becca's Dirt said...

That book sounds like an informative book. I'll have to try the pesto recipe. Maybe I need to plant another sweet basil. I'll cut the recipe in half since I only cook for myself a couple times a week.

Becca's Dirt said...

Oh and have fun in the garden today.

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

Very easy to cut the recipe in half, Becca. More info to come!

Pat said...

Love the name - Presto Pesto! Sounds like a must try too...
I am so glad you can be outside in the gardens...and I won't tell you how envious I am...
And I won't tell you that we are receiving up to 13" of a certain substance - it has been coming down all day...and isn't is the 2nd or 3rd day of Spring??

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

I'm so sorry TO! I heard you were to get more of that stuff we're tired of! Yikes, girlfriend! I'm praying for you.

Carol said...

I love growing and using basil. I love the smell of it in the kitchen. I'll have to to give that recipe a shot too. I've also discovered that I have to restrict my tomato based sauce use...Makes me very sad :(
Weather is nice here today and I'm off work so it's out to the gardens to work!

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

Yes, Carol, tomato sauce is healthy and you can't have it! Very frustrating! Have fun working in your gardens!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of this wonderful information. You are saving me tons on magazines. I love basil and grow it each year.

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

Glad I could help save you money, Mina!

Bernideen said...

As always - great blog! Love this post on Basil and the wonderful recipes and canning! Am printing it out for my herb folder!

Lemon Verbena Lady said...

Thanks Berideen! Glad you could use it.