What garden is complete without basil? This versatile herb, grown for its lush aromatic foliage, is a staple for both landscaping and container gardening. Belonging to the Lamiaceae plant family (which also includes mint, sage, lavender, rosemary, oregano and thyme to name a few) these handsome plants are easy to grow and generally have high yields for culinary delights ranging from pastas and eggplant to teas. Not only is basil a staple ingredient in such classic Italian dishes like caprese and bruschetta but basil's popularity largely associated with Mediterranean cooking is of the likes of none other. A little known fact about basil: it's not native to the Mediterranean region. In fact it was brought over via the spice trade routes from India.
Enter specimen #1: Ocimum Sanctum
From India, basil traveled on the backs of many a camel and spice trade caravan into Europe eventually finding its way into Asia, specifically Thailand. If you've ever ventured into a Vietnamese or Korean eatery Thai basil is a staple ingredient. Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum var. thyrsiflora) has a stronger more pungent flavor - almost anise. But it flavors pho and Asian dishes with amazing culinary flare.
Enter specimen #2: Cinnamon Basil
|Mmmm ... Cinnaminaminamin|
An uncommon basil which is not stocked in typical home and gardening establishments like Lowes or Home Despot was found on the humble trays at Bloomers Nursery in Sanford is the next featured basil in my collection.
Enter Specimen #3: Pesto Perpetuo
|Ocimum Citriodorum: (a.k.a. Basil delicioso!!)|
As you can see this ain't your Father's basil! The variegated leaves add to the beauty of this plant and are much smaller in length and width than traditional sweet basil. But man does it ever pack a flavorful punch! As the name suggests, Pesto basil is best suited for pesto making. I made up a batch and froze it for later use in stews, soups and yes traditional pesto pasta. Here's the basic recipe I used.
Now this basil is a bit mysterious to me. I've never seen one flower so therefore yielding seeds has eluded the Celtic Garden. Growing cuttings is an option to attempt overwintering plants until spring so we'll see what the future holds. Perhaps the magical Pesto Perpetuo fairies will grace the Celtic Garden with their presence and gifts.
Enter Specimen #4: Sweet Basil
And here it is rounding out the fourth and final basil variety in the basil beds, Ocimum Basilicum makes its grand blog entry. Now comparatively the leaves are wide and long with the familiar emerald green color and glossy sheen. In fact the longer they grow the stronger their flava! Though not as tough as Thai or Tulsi, sweet basil is strong enough to be rolled up with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella and dipped in eggplant tapanede. Goes great with a nice shiraz. Sweet basil is the grandest of basils due largely to its cultivation popularity and renowned culinary reputation. You just can't go wrong cooking with basil paired with fresh garlic, olive oil and heirloom tomatoes for a quick and easy pasta sauce. Again, this garden staple is worth its weight in gold.
One more note about basil. Its relatively easy to propagate from seed and root from cuttings. All it really needs is organic well-drained soil and plentiful sunshine. To encourage a more bushy plant cut the main stem early on to encourage side growth. Pinch off flowering buds and pick the leaves frequently. For with each leaf picked two will grow in its place. (two for the price of one!) For storage its best dried though I've heard of folks storing basil as olive oil infusions and freezing basil in ice cubes.
That wraps up this week's blog edition. By the way stay tuned for info regarding the annual Sustainable Neighbor Fall Urban Garden Tour. Details TBA.
And as always may happiness be like rays of sunshine in your mind, body and soul!