Basil is one of the most widely used herbs and is found in cuisines worldwide. It is commonly associated with Italian cooking and pairs well with both garlic and tomatoes. On top of its appeal as a culinary herb basil is aesthetically appealing and has a fabulous aroma. The name basil comes from the Greek basileus meaning king or basilisk which is a legendary snake that has the ability to kill with a glance. Both names indicate power. Basil is featured in Indian religious ceremonies, has been used as a sign of love in Italy and planted in French window planters to take advantage of its natural insect repellents. In cooking basil can be used to flavor fish, poultry, beans, cheese, egg or a wide range of vegetable dishes. It pairs well with oregano, sweet marjoram, thyme and parsley.

Companion planting is the practice of planting certain plants near each other to increase vigor and deter pests. Plant basil near tomatoes and peppers to deter pests with its strong fragrance. Planting basil near asparagus can increase the vigor of the asparagus. It also pairs well with nasturtium, zinnias, marigolds, and other basils. Basil is a great addition to herb, vegetable, or flower gardens and does great in containers as well. This fabulous herb features striking green foliage and blossoms, adds fragrance to the garden and has many culinary uses.

Here at Hook’s we carry sweet basil, the classic culinary variety, but there are over 60 varieties of basil out there. As a leaf crop basil needs fertile soil to prosper. However, it is important to note that too much nitrogen can decrease oil production in the plant which finishes the flavor and fragrance of the basil. Basil prefers soils with pH values between 6.4-7 which is the same range as both corn and tomatoes. We recommend using organic fertilizers such as well-rotted manure mixed into the soil prior to planting or fish emulsion. This sun loving herb that requires 6 plus hours of sun.

Basil can be harvested throughout the growing season and frequent harvesting a can promote bushier growth. To harvest, pick leaves from the main stem or branches just above where the leaf meets the stem leaving the node intact (this is key to promote bushier growth). For the best flavor we recommend harvesting just before flowers develop. The flavor changes after flowering so be sure to pinch off the buds before they bloom. Fertilize with a bit of fish emulsion, manure or compost tea after harvesting to help the plant recover.

Harvested basil can either be used fresh or kept for later use. Cuttings can keep for up to one week in water on a windowsill. Do not place leaves in the fridge, because the fridge is too cold for basil and it will not do well. Basil can be dried by hang drying, or in a microwave or oven. Once dried store in an airtight dark container out of direct sunlight. It can also be frozen in plastic bags layered with paper towels to absorb excess water or can be minced and frozen in an ice tray with olive oil.

Here are a number of recipes to give you an idea of the variety of culinary uses of basil!

Recipes:

Basil Pesto

2 c fresh basil leaves, removed from the stem

½ c fresh parsley leaves

½ c olive oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

¼ c roasted pine nuts

¼ c fresh parmesan or asiago cheese

In a blender or food processor, puree the basil, parsley, oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Add the nuts and the cheese and process briefly until the pesto reaches the desired consistency.

 

Basil lime vinaigrette

½ c fresh basil leaves

1 Tbsp fresh lime juice

2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

½ tsp dijon mustard

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

¼ c olive oil

In a food processor puree the basil with the lime juice. Transfer to a small bowl and add the vinegar, mustard and shallot. Add the oil in a stream, whisking until blended. Serve over slices of fresh tomatoes, as a dressing for pasta salad or a marinade for fish or chicken.

 

Basil cream for soup

1 c fresh basil leaves

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 Tbsp olive oil

½ c heavy cream

In a food processor, puree the basil, garlic, and oil. Slowly add the cream until a smooth mixture is formed. To serve, swirl a Tbsp or two onto the top of any hearty, hot soup: tomato, broccoli, cauliflower, or leek and potato soups work great!

 

Potato and basil gratin

1 c cold water

1 c milk

1 pound red potatoes, thinly sliced

1 bay leaf

1 clove garlic, peeled

4 Tbsp butter

1 c chopped fresh basil

½ c grated cheddar cheese

1 c cream

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Pour the water and milk into a saucepan, then add in the sliced potatoes, bay leaf, and garlic. Boil for 10 minutes, just until tender. Drain. Grease a 10 inch baking dish. Sprinkle on the grated cheese, then pour on the cream. Dot with the remaining butter. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

 

References:

Growing and Using Basil by Ellen Ogden