Cooking with delicious basil

By Shelly Detwiler, berry farmer and dietician

It is May and I know the spring planting adrenaline is not just amping up for all you farmers out there but all of you home gardeners as well. Herbs are not only an easy way for you to add some spice to your garden but also your plate. No matter if your garden is a football field or a postage stamp, you too can enjoy the flavors of your labor. One of my favorite herbs is basil. Basil is an easy herb to plant, tend and enjoy in your garden.

Plant basil in your large gardens, kitchen gardens or even just a plant or two in your flower bed. Basil even does well in pots. The most important intel to have is location, location, location. You want to have easy access when you decide to chef it up in your kitchen and need some basil. Basil is in the mint family and there are close to 150 different varieties. Who knew? I love sweet and Italian (Genovese) basil. They are the most common varieties of basil but are in fact different plants. Sweet basil has just a tad lighter, more pointed leaves than Italian basil and has a slightly sweeter and milder flavor. Some taste buds think there may be a hint of anise or licorice flavor, although my tastebuds have not noticed that. When in doubt, plant one of each. You can never have too much basil.

Another favorite of mine is Cinnamon basil (Mexican spice basil). It has bright green leaves and delicate purple veins and stems with light purple or pink flowers. It has mild spicy flavors with a splash of cinnamon. It is popular in Asian cuisine and is one of those tongue tickling blends with summer fruit and cheese. Lemon, Purple, Thai sweet, Greek and Dark Opal round up other top fav varieties. Let us grab some basil and head to the kitchen.

My two favorite things to make with basil are tomato bruschetta and pesto. Ten plus years back I was teaching an herb class to a bunch of seniors at the local Y. I trekked out to a farm called From My Garden and picked up about 25-30 large bunches of fresh basil. Linda had told me that they were washed and bundled ready for use. The fragrance of basil is just addicting and takes you to a world filled with Italian music floating through the air and plates filled with amazing flavors. The back end of my car was filled with the bundles and soon the sweet-smelling leaves had magically infused their perfume throughout my car. By the time I had gotten to the YMCA, I was on a basil high. Let me preface the rest of the story and tell you as I tell all my cooking class participants, this is NOT the perfect Food Network class; think more like Tim the Toolman in the Kitchen. The demo proceeded and I began to talk and make the pesto. Pulse, pulse, whirl, whirl and hmmm. It looked beautiful just like from an episode of Giada! Wait for it. Wait. What? As I began to spoon out the beautiful pesto, I found little tan pieces. Under my breath “what the strawberries did I do?” In my haste to make perfect pesto I had indeed made rubber band pesto. Holding back some suppressed mortified laughter, I fessed up, proceeded to pick out the contraband and warn my seniors of the hazards of rubber band pesto. Needless to say, the roar of laughter was probably heard throughout the Y.

Basil is such a versatile and widely used culinary herb. It can be used in sauces, eggs, pesto, sandwiches, soups, and salad. An easy-peasy way to impress your guest is to chiffonade basil. That is secret code for basil ribbons. You too can chiffonade by stacking the leaves of your basil, rolling it up into a cigar shape and thinly slicing the basil. Fluff it up and wa-la you have basil ribbons. Do not forget to drop the word chiffonade on your guests.

Head to your local garden store and plant some basil on National Herb Day May 4. This summer it will not disappoint!

Eat well and healthy!

Shelly

Pistachio Pesto
Fresh Tomato Bruschetta
Balsamic and Berry Basil Salad (Shelly’s Notes: I cannot wait to make this! I might add a few drops of honey. Yum!)
Basil Strawberry and Cream Cheese Appetizer

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