Here we go again with the weather. Just when I feel like I’m behind on gearing up for summer, I’m digging my sweater out of the back of the closet. By this time of year, most people’s gardens are in full swing and luckily the recent temperature dip wasn’t severe enough to tamper with that.
One of my favorite, and often the easiest, plants to grow is basil. You find these plants at local nurseries, HEB, Whole Foods and the like just bursting with growth and for nearly the same cost as the packaged fresh herbs in the produce section (sometimes the packaging on the rooted variety reads, “I’m a live plant!” just to make sure shoppers don’t confuse the two). Why not buy the plant and have this versatile and flavorful herb on demand?
I want to point out that basil is also a great for growing in small containers. Apartment dwellers, renters, condo owners: no excuses here. This plant will survive on a balcony or even in a sunny window, if that’s all you’ve got to offer.
When space is an issue, consider the usefulness of the plants you are growing. Basil, used in a variety of summer dishes including bruschetta, pasta, vegetables and pizza, is also a great source of vitamins and minerals, with the essential oils possessing antibacterial properties.
As for health benefits, I like to maximize these with a simple basil pesto –– heart-healthy olive oil and antioxidant-stimulating garlic mingle with basil’s summery flavor in a delicious and good-for-you combination.
Remember - growing your own herbs encourages you to cook with them, and cooking with herbs leans more to the healthy side of the spectrum. Think fresh, and go heavy on the herbs.
Classic Basil Pesto
2 cups packed basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup pine nuts (for authentic Italian taste, or you can use pecans if you want to keep it local)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
sea salt to taste
Combine the basil, garlic, nuts and cheese in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add the oil and process until smooth (you may need to add more depending on how you like the consistency). Season with salt to taste.
Serve immediately or store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Summer Basil Salad
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
½ cup chopped basil leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt and black pepper to taste
Combine and enjoy. Awesome on its own, on bruschetta bread or with pasta.