The resilient, luxurious basil

As the rest of the garden fades, basil keeps on thriving.


Every spring when I plan my kitchen garden, I imagine the perfect design with beautiful groupings of textures and colors. By midsummer, I am forced to admit that no matter how much weeding, trimming, and staking I do, my garden is not particularly attractive. By fall, my plot is a sorry sight. The tomato plants look blighted and ragtag, the corn patch is a tangle of broken-off stalks after nightly marauding by squirrels and raccoons, and my carefully constructed pole bean teepees support a spindly twining of beans, the only plants surviving the continual pruning by the neighborhood rabbit community.

However, amid this wreck of a garden, one species always looks luxuriant the whole summer and into autumn: basil. Basil isn't a favorite of the local animals, and it tolerates, even flourishes, in the intense heat of August. As the summer progresses, I snip off branches for salads and pasta dishes and by September, I have beautiful, shiny, bushy plants.

Now is the time to save some of this summer freshness for winter. I chop the branches off most of my plants and whisk them through a rinsing of water. I pull the lower leaves off stalks and dry the leaves between towels. The upper leaves on the stalks can air dry in jars of water and be removed from the stalk when dry.

In matter of minutes, you can mix up several batches of pesto – enough to last the winter. Freeze it into cubes, and "Presto!" you will have an easy flavoring for soups, salads, and pasta all through the cooler days ahead.

This recipe does not require exact measurements. Oil and Parmesan cheese can be reduced or increased. Sometimes I do not use cheese at all. Parsley or fresh spinach can be combined with basil, if your supply of basil is limited.

2 large garlic cloves

3 cups lightly packed

basil leaves

2 tablespoons chopped English walnuts

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Set up food processor with chopping blade. With processor running, drop garlic cloves into processor bowl from feed tube and process until minced. Stop processor and scrape down sides. Add basil leaves and walnuts to bowl. Pulse until basil is coarsely chopped. Scrape down sides and add oil and cheese to bowl. Process until well mixed, stopping to scrape down sides several times.

Spoon pesto into sections of an ice cube tray and freeze. When pesto is frozen, pop out of ice cube tray and transfer to a freezer-weight plastic bag. Place back in freezer until ready to use. Makes approximately 10 1-tablespoon cubes.

Fresh Sun Gold Tomato and Basil Sauce for Pasta

In the fall, cherry tomato plants are bearing so many tomatoes that your yield may far exceed what is needed for snacking and salad making. Save some of the pesto for this easy and delicious tomato topping for pasta. You can use red tomatoes as well as yellow, but the yellow tomatoes make it particularly beautiful. This recipe idea came from Darthia Farm in Gouldsboro, Maine.

8 cups yellow cherry tomatoes

6 tablespoons pesto

1/4 teaspoon salt

Parmesan cheese for grating

Set up food processor with chopping blade. Place tomatoes in processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add pesto and pulse several times, or until mixed. Taste and add additional salt, if needed.

Serve over hot spaghetti and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Makes 4 servings.

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