Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Basil The Great!

Basil is one of the most loved herbs in the world today. Basils belong to the Lamiaceae mint family and there are many varieties out there, but sweet basil is best known. Although natively grown in India most associate it with Mediterranean cuisine.

The herb was so revered in ancient Greece that it was called "The Herb of Kings." Only a king could harvest it, and then must use a golden sickle. But, the Greeks also believed that basil was a symbol of malice and lunacy. They believed that to successfully grow basil, one had to yell and curse angrily while sowing the seeds. Even in French, semer le basillic, “sowing basil,” means ranting. Well I can certainly relate to that… especially with my recent seed sowing “experiments.”

I sowed basil seeds indoors on 3/31. They sprouted very quickly within a week, but then they stayed at the sprout stage with seed leaves for what seemed like an eternity (which is what caused my ranting). Finally about a week ago they started to get their true leaves and they’ve been taking off like gang busters ever since.

This picture was taken a week ago and the seedlings are probably twice the size (I’ve got 8 individual plants growing).

I’m Italian by heritage and basil, fresh tomatoes, and mozzeralla were staples in my childhood home. Growing up we called it basilico. But, some people call it BAH-ZEL…

…not to be confused with this guy….

Photo above: John Cleese as Basil in the British sitcom Fawlty Towers

Or, this woman.

Photo Above: Toni Basil 80’s pop star (Hey Mickey!)

Whether you call it BAY-ZIL or BAH-ZEL it’s always a deliciously fragrant herb to have in the garden and kitchen.

Try it as a cocktail (virgin or not)

Bloody Gazpacho

50ml Absolut Vodka (optional)
4 Basil Leafs
1/2 Inch of Cucumber
100ml Fresh Tomato juice
Dash Balsamic vinegar
6 Drops of Tabasco
4 Dashes Worcestershire sauce
1/2 shot Fresh lemon juice
2 pinch Minced garlic
2 pinch Ground pepper
2 pinch Celery salt

Or, for dinner.

Mix up some pesto and pour it over boneless, skinless chicken breasts and bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes depending on how thick the meat is. (Quick Tip – If you can’t find fresh basil to make the pesto yourself or if it’s too early for harvesting, you can use Buitoni – usually found in the deli or dairy case).

The chicken is delicious cold the next day over a salad – Ellie’s Dad can attest to that!

Classic Pesto

2 tablespoons coarse-chopped walnuts or pine nuts
2 garlic cloves peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups basil leaves (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preparation: You will need a food processor or strong blender. With the motor running, drop the pine nuts and garlic through the feed chute. Process until finely minced. Add the olive oil and pulse three times. Add basil, Parmesan cheese, and salt to the processor bowl. Process until finely minced, scraping down sides. Refrigerate leftovers and use within 1 week. Yield: 3/4 cup

Ice Cream anyone? Yum!

Basil Ice Cream from Epicurious

2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream

Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer; an ice cream maker

Bring milk, basil, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring, then remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes. Transfer to a blender (reserve saucepan) and blend until basil is finely ground, about 1 minute.

Beat together yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale, about 1 minute. Add milk mixture in a stream, beating until combined well. Pour mixture into reserved saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on thermometer (do not let boil). Immediately remove from heat and pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl. Set bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and stir until cold, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in cream and freeze in ice cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 2 hours.

So as my basil grows by leaps and bounds I’ll be dreaming of upcoming warm summer days with the fresh scent of basil drifting through the air. In the meantime, cocktails anyone?


Dirt Princess said...

I cannot tell you how much I love PESTO!!!!!!!!!!! I could eat it on anything!!! I am printing this post! Great post!

tina said...

NO thanks to the icecream but I made lots of pesto last year with my basil. I really like it too surprisingly enough. Your post is very cute-love it!

Josie said...

yum! i love basil. i must be royalty. basil ice cream sounds... interesting.

Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

The basil ice cream is surprisingly good. It doesn't have a strong herb flavor as you would expect. It reminds me of green tea ice cream (which I think is unusual too, but also very good). I've had green tea ice cream in Asian restaurants. The basil ice cream can also be served with a little shaved dark chocolate or hazelnuts on it. I'll admit it's not something that would appeal to everyone, but a lot of people are pleasantly surprised when they taste it.

The Impatient Gardener said...

Now that drink looks GOOD! I'd love to try the basil ice cream too but I'm not one for making ice cream ... just eating it!

Tatyana said...

Love this post. Thank you!

RainGardener said...

I think I'll print this post out too as I love pesto. I'll try to make my own although 'A cook I ain't' but once in a while I try! ;-)
Very informative (and cute) post Jackie

gardenerprogress/Catherine said...

I love basil. It is surprisingly easy to start from seed, although mine aren't looking too happy right now outside. Homemade pesto is the best.
I'll join you for a cocktail while we wait for the basil to grow!

Red Studio said...

What a lovely post. Thank you for the recipes, I will try the ice cream. Homemade pesto is to die for.