Ode to Basil
Basil is my favorite herb. My first farming job was hand-harvesting basil in the foothills of the Oregon Coastal Mountains. Basil is a fairly fragile plant, so the leaves you see in your CSA, at the farmer’s market, or in the produce section of the grocery store have all been cut by hand (mechanized harvesting damages the leaves, rendering them suitable only for pesto).
At that first job, I spent hours each morning clipping leaves, completely immersed in the row of plants. When I returned home in the evenings, hours after completing other farm chores, the scent of basil still emanated from my skin. Somehow our long, hot hours together infused a great bond, to the extent that I may have purchased Mrs.Meyer’s basil-scented dryer sheets so that I can continue to enjoy the scent of basil in the off-season.
Basil has so, so many culinary uses, from its excellent addition to tomatoes and fresh mozzarella in a salad, to drinks such as basil lemonade, watermelon and basil juice, the Montgomery Distillery’s Ruby, Madge and Marble (includes a raspberry, lemon and basil puree), and even smoothies. I once infused basil into a lemon-flavored cheesecake.
I adore pesto most of all and have become rather particular about recipes. One of the Orchard Gardens Farm Stand customers suggested using tahini instead of walnuts (or increasingly expensive pine nuts), which creates a lovely consistency.
Pesto is a delicious addition to:
- Your favorite pasta
- Scrambled eggs
- Grilled vegetables
- Vegetable soups, such as minestrone or kale and white bean
- Potato salad
Lucky for those of use who do not have the patience or heat tolerance for canning (especially if, say, you live on the third floor of an apartment with west-facing windows), pesto freezes beautifully. I usually freeze mine in ice cube trays for a quick mid-winter defrost, but a freezer-safe container of any sort will work.
I recently purchased a food processor for exactly these sorts of projects, but if you’re overly ambitious, you could try this method by hand.
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 1/3 cup tahini
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cups loosely packed basil
- 2/3 cup olive oil
Peel the garlic cloves and mince them in the food processor. Add tahini, salt, pepper, and basil and finely mince. Add the oil a bit at a time, through the hole in the top of the processor, until well-combined.