Who doesn’t love the smell of basil? My garden has 5 different kinds! Everyone notices the smell and involuntarily stops to appreciate it. I have heard a lot of people talk about their attempts at basil, so this blog is for them. If you live around a wegmans, you have probably purchased a hydroponically grown bag of basil with the roots still attached in little blocks and tried to stick it in the ground or a pot. This seems to be about the most difficult way to grow basil and the way most likely to result in woody unusable stalks. This easy way – you will never want to pay for that stuff again.
You need very little earth to grow a lot of basil. You can use a small patch of garden, or a wide pot on your porch. Either way you need – sun, heat and plenty of water. Choose the sunniest place you can and wait until it’s warm – tail end of spring. The soil should be at least 70, basil likes the summer warmth.
Step 2: prepare a place to plant. This can be in the ground or in a pot, but choose the sunniest place possible. The soil should be anything but clay – if you have very compact soil just add somethings else to break it up – anything really – compost, potting soil, anything that the tiny roots can grab on to and stir it up.
Step 3: sprinkle seeds evenly over your pot or ground. One seed packet is approximately enough for about a 3-4sf space, so no need to go crazy if you have a pot. Water well – soak it – don’t worry about it being too much – water your seeds every day – it won’t take long until they sprout depending on the temperature. This will grow more than enough basil for most people. You will have enough to put in your pasta, make some pesto, freeze for later and arrange your caprese if you follow these pruning directions…
Here’s the thing – we buy them in the stores as 8 or 10 inch stalks. That’s not the way to get the most out of them. You can prune a basil and take its leaves over and over again. The simple trick is that you cannot let this plant go to flower. Once you see this pinch it off. This will stimulate the adjacent leafs to grow and keep the plant generally more tender. Once a basil starts to flower, it’s cute, but there’s no more point. The plant’s energy goes into making seeds. Each time you pinch off the center stalk, the two below it will take over. They will grow large leaves you can pluck and each will also attempt a flower that you’ll have to prune off. In effect, if you prune the basil’s first attempt at flowering it’s leaf production will almost double.
Once your basil is growing – to a height of 8 inches or so – each week pinch off its potential flowers, then go back through and cut off its largest leaves. If you do this – the same seed packet will keep you busy all summer. You can always add more seeds to the same space at any time if you’d like to grow more.
So to totally break it down – wait until it’s warm, sprinkle seeds on some dirt, put them in the sun, water them every day, prune them when they’re big.
Chances are you’ll have more than you can use at the time they need pruning. I like to wash and then freeze or dry it. To freeze it, put a handful in a ziplock bag and flatten it out. When you are wishing for fresh basil for your pasta or Pad Thai in the middle of winter, just break a chunk off. This retains a much stronger flavor than dried basil. To dry it, lay it out on a cookie sheet and put it in a 200 degree over for 15-20 minutes (set a timer – its easy to forget it’s there).
CLASSIC BASIL PESTO
2 c fresh basil
1/2 c pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
3 or 4 cloves of garlic
Good quality olive oil
Salt & pepper
In a food processor pulse to chop basil, add Parmesan and garlic, pulse to incorporate. Add olive oil until you like the consistency. Add pine nuts and pulse to chop – don’t over process or you’ll lose the texture of the nuts.
Add more oil if necessary and taste it before you add seasoning. Parmesan is very salty, you may not need to add more. Stir in salt & pepper with a spoon to avoid turning the nuts into paste.
I keep this in the freezer for up to a year if I don’t need it all at once.
Stay tuned for different pesto recipes for your other herbs!