It's Almost Too Pretty to Eat
Realization of the Day:
Freshly picked basil always feels like summer.
It's the longest day of the year today, and it's also the hottest—90 degrees in the shade (which is why I'm hiding in my little office with a fan blasting on me, writing about gardening instead of actually doing it). But even without the calendar and thermometer, I'd know that summer is about to begin because the fresh basil is ready.
I ordered all sorts of different kinds of basil seeds this year, and then I ended up buying some plants instead. This purple variety is Red Rubin, which the Johnny's Select Seeds catalog says is a "vigorous Italian large leaf type with high yields and great flavor. Flat, 3" long leaves stand out horizontally, and are a copper-tinged purple color. Height 18"—24" and 76 days to harvest."
I'm pretty sure this is the mystery purple variety I grew last year that made such incredible pesto. The plants look similar, and many of the leaves have the same pretty green outline along the edges.
The green basil was grown and sold by a local gardener at the natural foods store in town. It was simply labeled 'sweet basil,' but at $2.00 for six healthy little plants I wasn't about to pass it up just because I have no idea what kind it is.
While Genovese basil is a favorite and dependable Italian variety for pestos, I prefer the Italian Large Leaf, which has a sweeter and less clove-like flavor. The tiny leaves of lemon and lime basil smell wonderful, and are a nice change from the norm, though I admit to never using them to their full potential.
One year I grew bush basil, and I ended up with about 20 adorable and perfectly shaped little mounds that made me think of hedgehogs. They do well in pots and a closely planted row of them would make a beautiful edging along a pathway or herb bed.
Since it's going to be a long, long time before I have any tomatoes in the garden (especially since five of my most recently transplanted seedlings fried up and died yesterday), I'll probably just turn this basil into my favorite pesto. Tonight we're grilling homegrown beef burgers that we'll serve on hunks of Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguettes (I love this easy bread!), and I'm thinking a pesto burger—smothered with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella perhaps—would be very nice. Or maybe I should wait for the tomatoes.
I actually picked this basil back on Wednesday, but after 72 hours in the refrigerator it still looks perfectly fresh. I rinsed the leaves under water and put them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. The paper towel will soak up extra moisture and keep the leaves from rotting while maintaining a high level of humidity in the bag. I gently pressed most of the air out of the bag and sealed it with a clothespin.
Some people claim that fresh basil will quickly rot in the refrigerator if the leaves aren't perfectly dry, but I find they do better when left a little damp. And as with lettuce and other greens, wilted basil leaves won't perk up in the refrigerator—you need to refresh them in a quick cold water bath first.
The best way to store fresh basil is of course to leave it on the plant until just before you're ready to use it. Harvesting often can actually benefit the plant since, as my gardening girlfriend Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farm explains in this informative post, pinching your basil plants is the key to success.
One of our butcher lamb customers is an avid gardener, and she likes to keep a big bunch of basil in a pitcher of water on her kitchen counter. She says it lasts for quite a while that way, and sometimes the stems will even send out roots, creating new plants that can go back in the garden. I really need to try this.
Are you harvesting any basil yet? What are your favorite varieties—and what do you like to do with them?
9/21/06: How To Keep Your Basil Growing Into Fall
6/25/06: Beautiful Basil Seedlings in the Greenhouse
7/25/06: Volunteer Basil in the Kitchen Garden
8/10/06: Basil Gone Wild - and Happy Pollinators
Other Farmgirl Fare basil recipes and appetizers you might enjoy:
—Purple Basil Pesto and the Easiest White Bean Dip/Spread Recipe Ever
—Savory Tomato Pesto Pie with a No-Fail Biscuit Crust
—Fresh Tomato Pesto Pizza & A Simple Tomato Salad
—Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
—Simple Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce (no blanching required)
—The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
—Colors of Summer Salad with Fresh Basil
—Summer in a Bowl with Fresh Basil
—Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
—Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip
—How To Make Arugula Pesto & What To Do with It
—All About Chives & How To Make Herbed Yogurt Cheese
© Copyright 2009 FarmgirlFare.com, the herb infused foodie farm blog where—oh gosh, look at the time—it's happy hour! Time to water the thirsty garden and pour myself a drink. Happy summer solstice!