Basil is the quintessential herb of the garden. The plants are grown as annuals in zone 7 where I live as they are frost sensitive. I must confess that hard as I have tried, I have never been able to grow basil inside. My kitchen is too drafty, dark and cool in the winter. I also do not grow basil from seed (why bother when numerous plant varieties are readily available to directly sow into the garden) and always succeed with my plants in raised beds. The weather definitely determines the success of growth. We had a cool, wet spring this year and the plants did not go in the beds until the soil was warm in June. Plant in full sun with well-drained soil ~ they did not like wet feet. By pinching off the flowers and tips, the leaves continue to grow and the plants will become big shrubs. Also, as the plant matures, you can take cuttings for easy rooting and share with your gardening friends.
The holes you may see chewed in the leaves are most likely from slugs or maybe even grasshoppers. I place copper mesh wire around the base of the plant to ward off those pesky, ugly pests. Seems to work. Beer pools drown them but then you have to dispose of inebriated dead slugs. Both are non-toxic solutions for control.
The title of this post refers to basil as king of the herbs. According to Wikipedia, the word basil comes from a Greek term, basilikón phutón meaning royal/kingly plant (help me here Chris Papatolis). It should be called queen of the herbs as the plants are so lovely. There are many varieties of basil but of course the most popular is sweet basil ‘Genovese’, the Italian type with large leaves. In years past I have planted purple basil to use in floral arrangements ~ absolutely gorgeous. This year I added ‘Pesto Perpetuo’ that has small, striking variegated leaves. I haven’t used it in cooking yet but it claims to have a robust flavor ideal for sauces.
I am not a firm believer in herbal medicine; however, there are varieties that some Eastern countries believe have medicinal properties like holy basil and East Indian basil. I did not research what the specific beliefs are but I assume it is used to ease indigestion, headaches or fever as so many herbs are used for these complaints. Please be advised by your medicine man but do note that basil is high in vitamins and minerals and has many culinary uses.
I grow this exquisite herb mostly to concoct my pesto. In fact, I prepare so much of it that I gladly share it with my friends and family ~ it’s all about the love. I make the following recipe in batches and store them in tightly sealed half-pint canning jars. After filling the jars, I just cover the pesto with olive oil and store it in the refrigerator for up to six months! Yes, that is correct. The pesto does not spoil and to keep its green color, you just cover it again with olive oil if the entire contents of the jar are not used. How it is able to last I do not know as my sauce does not contain any preservatives. Must be the salt. Some friends freeze it without the cheese and add that ingredient later but I feel freezing pesto loses some of its sublime flavors when thawed.
Ali’s Pesto alla Genovese*
- 2 cups of fresh basil leaves, firmly packed**
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 3 garlic cloves
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (the best you can buy)
- Coarse sea salt or Kosher salt to taste
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil***
- Combine all ingredients except oil in a food processor and blend until coarsely chopped, stopping as needed to scrape down the sides.
- With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil to the basil mixture until smooth.
- Store in jars or use immediately.
*I use only Genovese basil for my pesto for its bold flavors.
**Use smaller leaves and GENTLY pack the leaves as they may bruise with brute force.
***Extra virgin olive oil is darker in color and more flavorful ~ why skimp?
Among many plentiful uses, this sauce is to die for over pasta, spread on a warm baguette or served with crackers and Burrata, an Italian cheese made with cream and mozzarella cheese. Licking the food processor bowl like the remains of brownie batter is an option as well.
The next recipe I prepare frequently in the summer when it is too hot to turn the oven on in the kitchen and pesto is abundant. Plus, everything tastes better when prepared on the grill. I want to comment prior to listing the recipe as it calls for my pesto. Recipes are just guidelines but PLEASE DO NOT USE STORE BOUGHT SAUCE! It’s just wrong ~ it lacks the color and flavor of home-made and will ruin the dish as I discovered once when I shared my recipe and tasted it. I am a purist at heart when it comes to certain things in my kitchen.
Ali’s Pesto Chicken Packets
- 4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup pesto
- 2 zucchini, thinly sliced
- 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
- 8 green onions, roots and some green trimmed
- Preheat grill to medium heat. Cut 4 long sheets of aluminum foil. Drizzle 1 teaspoon oil into the center of the foil.
- Season chicken with salt and pepper. Place chicken in center of foil and spread 1 tablespoon pesto over top.
- Mound ¼ of zucchini, tomatoes and onions over each breast. Place 3 tablespoons pesto over all vegetables. Fold the foil over to create a packet; pinch the edges to seal.
- Cover and grill the packets for 25 minutes over indirect heat. Remove and serve warm; carefully opening the packets. Serve with additional pesto, if desired.