Jun 11, 2015

Sumertime and the Basil is Easy

While watering my tomato plants. I daydream about food. My mouth waters for that first BLT sandwich of the summer.  What could be better than a home grown tomato slices on top of hickory smoked bacon, iceberg lettuce and, of course, Dukes mayonnaise.  I always think it is important to sprinkle the salt and pepper on top of the tomato slices and the Dukes needs to be on both slices of the toasted bread. 
But crispy bacon is not the only food that pairs well with home grown tomatoes.  I also look forward to a little snack I call Italian toast.  I slice up fresh basil and mix it in olive oil in a shallow dish. Then I slice up a baguette and dip the bread in the oil and basil. I top these with fresh made mozzarella cheese and a slice of tomato.  The bread is placed on a baking sheet.  I pour the remaining oil mix over the tomatoes.  Pop this in a hot oven until the cheese melts and serve.  Good summer eats.
Basil is a very versatile and easy to grow herb if done right. I think the biggest mistake gardeners make is planting too early. Basil, like its ornamental cousin the Coleus, hates the cold. Basil will suffer if the soil is cold and wet. Planting in early spring can lead to root rot especially if we get amply rain.  Basil will languish in the cool spring nights we all enjoy and thrive in the heat.  Tomatoes, on the other hand, do better with cool night temperatures and languish in the heat.  I usually plant my tomatoes about a month before the basil. This spring, I waited till May to plant the Basil because of the unusually cool temperatures.  It is not too late to plant basil, because we have 3 to 4 months of hot weatherstill ahead of us.
Basil was originally thought to come from India and spread east and west.  Southeast Asia is known for several types of basil each with its unique favor. Siam Queen and Thai Basil are popular varieties that can easily be found here.  To the west, Italians developed Basil with a slight licorice flavor.  Basil can be found in pizzas and pasta dishes and is the main ingredient for pesto.   If you love Italian cuisine, then you should grow Italian Large Leaf Basil or Genovese.  The most common Basil found in stores around here is Sweet Basil. It is good all-purpose basil but the flavor is mild and the plants have a lower yield than Italian Large Leaf Basil and Genovese.  All three basils make a good pesto. If you like milder flavors in your pesto, try Lemon Basil.  To keep your basil productive, pinch off any flower heads.  Once basil starts to bloom it will stop growing.
There are ornamental basils that are worth trying too.  Dark Opal, Purple Ruffles, Red Rubin and African Blue are just a few.  I like to grow African Blue as a pollinator plant for bees and butterflies.  It is a sterile hybrid that will bloom all summer with spikes of lavender flowers. These plants have purple stems and veins. The leaves have a camphor scent which I do not think would be a good flavor in any dish.  
Local Herbalist Vivian Whorley (Graham’s mom) sends her pesto recipe which can be easily made in a food processor.  Add each ingredient one at the time and pulse the machine a few times between each ingredient.  Serve on pasta hot or cold.
Vivian’s Southern Pesto
2 cups of Big Leaf Basil or Genovese.
½ cup pecans
½ freshly grated parmesan
2 cloves of garlic
2/3 cup olive oil
A little salt and pepper.
thanks for reading -Kathy
#Basil, #Tomatoes, #pesto 

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