Whether you're a CSA devotee, a farmers' market weekender or consider ketchup a veg, we'll bring you fresh inspiration for how to prepare our local produce.
This week's harvest: Basil
"It was believed in Greek and Roman times that to have a good basil crop, you'd have to yell loudly and swear when you were planting the seeds," or so says this guy. Here in Arizona in the desert with the dry heat, we don't need to cuss at all. Basil grows quite well here. In fact, I have recently returned from a long trip to CA and found that many of my plants have died -- except the basil.
Basil has such a distinctive flavor. It's peppery and sweet with a wee bit of lemon and clove thrown in for allure. There are so many fun varieties of "flavored" basil such as: lime basil, lemon basil, and cinnamon basil - many of which can be found at your local year-round farmers' market.
While cilantro has lovers and haters, basil has few naysayers. It has a long tradition of pleasing palates, curing tummy aches (in tea form) and even ensure safe travels for those who have passed. Here's what I found out here: "In Europe, basil is placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey. In India, they place it in the mouth of the dying to ensure they reach God. The ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks believed it would open the gates of heaven for a person passing on." That's some heavy responsibility for basil - and it never lets us down.
Here are some suggestions for how to use summer's proudest herb.
When is basil in season?
April through November
Any tips for growing basil?
Make sure to help it avoid frost at all costs, basil hates the cold. That's just something to note, I know it's the middle of summer right now. Unless you're looking to save the seeds, once basil has flowered, go ahead and pinch off those flowered tips to prolong it's harvest season. Also, be sure not to harvest the whole plant at one time since it'll continue to produce for you if you leave some of the leaves on the plant - choose the tops leaves first.
Selecting, storage and preparation tips:
Basil is pretty sensitive to wet conditions and wants to spoil pretty quickly. So don't let it. Store basil in a plastic bag to avoid drying out but make sure it's bone dry or else the moisture will kill it.
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What a great way to make sugar sparkle by infusing with an herb. Sprinkle on fruit or tarts, rim a cocktail, use as a base to make an infused simple syrup - love this!
Roasted Veggies + Basil
This is definitely a go-to recipe.
Strawberry + Fried Basil + Gruyere Grilled Cheese
Imagine taking a bite of this and tell me you aren't salivating. Gah. I want one.
Eggplant with White Bean Basil Lemon Spread
vegan impressive summer dinner party dish.
Spicy Thai Basil Shrimp
Dishes like this crave basil leaves.
Those were some of my suggestions for how to jazz up your basil repertoire. If you aren't into trying anything too frou frou, just make pesto. It's how I would suggest preserving this soft fragrant herb. When in doubt, just make pesto, freeze in an ice cube tray and pop them all in a labeled bag for use throughout the year (tho' you really should eat it in about 4-6 months). Here are some ways to make and use pesto.
Pressed Picnic Sandwiches
Squeal with delight as you pull this out of your lunch box.
Garden Basil Pesto Soup
Top almost any savorty soup - all year long - with a small scoop of pesto and get a years worth of thank yous.
Pesto Stuffed Pork
Stuff any protein with pesto for an instant fancy fête.
Jennifer Woods is a local food advocate with over 10 years working in the AZ food industry, and currently works for Crooked Sky Farms, a CSA produce farm based in South Phoenix.