Fragrant, Aromatic Basil
by Bridget Geegan Blanton
I've been planting herbs in my summer garden for years now and Sweet Basil tops the list as a perennial favorite. The scent of fresh Basil is to me, the scent of summer.
The year 'round availability brings fresh Basil to my kitchen counter all winter long and even then, its unmistakable fragrance reminds me of summer. These days, I include other varieties of Basil alongside the common Sweet Basil. Thai and Cinnamon Basil with their smaller yet aromatic leaves, are found amongst the collection of herb pots happily growing on my sunny back patio. The chocolate-splashed leaves of Chocolate Basil is another variety that is wonderful to grow and to have on hand for cooking.
Like most herbs, Basil is easy to grow. This mediterranean herb loves the sun. Aside from regular watering and grooming, this herb is low maintenance and will produce for you all summer long.
Prolong the life of your plant by harvesting the outer leaves regularly. Once the plants are established, pinch off the top to encourage a bushier plant. Basil has the best flavor just prior to flowering.
To delay flowering, simply pinch off the soft buds before they open. As with all herbs, the best time to harvest is early in the morning, in the hours after the dew and before the strong, afternoon sun. However, quite often I'm out the back door with my kitchen shears to grab a few stems of Basil in midst of preparing the evening meal.
If you have time in the morning, it's actually quite peaceful to step outside and harvest Basil and some of the other herbs that you've been growing. Go ahead, commune with nature and harvest some herbs in the gentle morning sun. It will do your soul some good.
Traditionally, Basil has been thought of as an herb used in Italian cooking. It may surprise you to learn that Basil is equally common in Thai cooking. As a rule of thumb, remember to have fresh basil on hand for dishes that call for tomatoes or coconut milk.
Basil is a perfect complement to these ethnic staples. If you can't use all of the fresh Basil you've harvested, simply place the stems in a jar of water and refrigerate. If you have a little leftover Basil, simply slice it and toss it with your salad. The addition of Basil is not at all overpowering in a simple salad; instead it seems to add a fresh, aromatic flavor.
Please visit the recipe page at desertrosebooks.com to find two pasta dishes that I've developed to take advantage of this season of fresh Basil. Also, don't forget to add fresh Basil to your next salad. You'll be pleasantly surprised.
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