Basil

October–Herb of the Month

Basil

By Barbara Porsch—Herb Enthusiast

 

basil-small

 

I am choosing Basil as the herb of the month now as a warning to use as much of your Basil as possible before the first frost.  Basil will be the first herb to succumb to even a little frost.  Basil, Ocimum basilicum, has been cultivated in Europe for 2000 years and there are at least 200 different varieties. It is a culinary herb in the  Lamiaceae (mint) family.   It has been thought to be poisonous, good for the heart and used for bites of venomous beasts.  Early Greek and Roman physicians believed the only way to grow a good crop of basil was to scatter the seeds while cursing and stomping feet.  Fortunately for us in west Texas, basil thrives in warm climates and is easy to start from seed.  The most common Basil Genovese is also known as sweet basil.   One of my favorites is African Blue Basil.  It is a hybrid, so you do not need to constantly be cutting off the blossoms like regular basil.  Therefore, it is an excellent landscape addition. For regular sweet basil, the more you pinch off growth, the better it does, and the more you can use.    Use the beautiful basil leaves to make pesto to freeze for use during the winter. It freezes well and in mid winter a nice pasta dish with fresh (even though frozen) pesto will seem like summer again. Pesto oil is a great way to use up the very last of the season basil.

Pesto oil: This is a four star recipe. Better than what they serve at restaurants to dip bread in. ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves (can even use tender stems) 1 clove garlic, minced ½ cup vegetable or olive oil. Preheat oven to 300. Combine ingredients in small metal measure or metal bowl. (anything that is oven proof) Set on baking sheet and cook in lower third of oven for 1 hour. Cool. Strain into a glass jar. Refrigerate to keep. For dipping bread, serve in shallow dish and add freshly ground black pepper and maybe some roasted garlic chips (available at Sams or the grocers).

This oil is excellent on pastas or in vinaigrettes, but unbelievable on mashed potatoes. This is a good way to use up basil at the end of the season. When I do it, I usually use my roaster and multiply the recipe to use 6 cups oil. You can store it back in the oil containers in the refrigerator. A bottle of this makes a neat gift.

 

Spinach/Basil Pesto Spread 3 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves (about 5 oz) 1 cup (packed) fresh 1 cup shelled unsalted pumpkin seeds (or sliced almonds) 1 Tblsp chopped fresh garlic 2 Tblsp chopped shallots 1 Tblsp Dijon mustard 1 ½ cups vegetable oil.

Process leaves, juice & capers coarsely. Add remaining ingredients except oil. Process finely. Gradually add oil while processor is running. Add salt & pepper to taste. Allow to flavor several hours before serving. Serve with thinly sliced baguettes.

This is always a big hit at a party. Also good on grilled chicken, baked potatoes or on a pizza with left over chicken and mozzarella. Add to a cream sauce and toss with pasta. It also freezes well.

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