Do you grow basil in your garden, or maybe in pots on a sunny porch? If so, you know that it’s one of the great pleasures of summer. It’s easy to grow, smells divine, and tastes delicious. You can add it to pizza, spaghetti sauce, or salad dressing. Layered with ripe tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and a touch of olive oil, it makes a salad fit for royalty. But perhaps the greatest pleasure basil gives – and it’s a gift that can keep on giving, long after summer is over – is pesto.
Pesto is a simple sauce made of fresh basil leaves, garlic, olive oil and parmesan cheese (some people also add pine nuts). It looks and smells like summer – green and spicy. Pesto can be added to pasta, pizza, Italian sauces, vinaigrette or, my current favorite food, grilled vegetable sandwiches. But perhaps best of all, it freezes beautifully and tastes perfect when thawed. Like peaches or blueberries frozen at the peak of summer, pesto brings a welcome touch of summer into the winter.
The easiest (and most economical) way to make pesto is to grow your own basil. You can grow it in nearly any spot that receives full sun – a traditional garden, raised bed garden, planter, or large pot. Choose a variety that has large leaves, like Sweet Basil. (It’s hard to make pesto with small-leaf varieties, like Spicy Globe.) Plant a couple of plants (or, if you’re like me and want enough pesto to last through the winter, 5 or 6 plants!), keep it watered and watch it grow. And it’s not too late to get started. Grab some plants and get them going today!
When the top 1/3 of the plants will yield about 2 cups of leaves, harvest them and make a batch of pesto (see recipe below). The plant will keep growing, and you should be able to harvest leaves from each plant several times. If you see flower buds starting to form, it’s time to harvest leaves (and cut the buds) – you want the plant to keep putting energy into making leaves, not flowers. Here’s a simple recipe for pesto you can enjoy throughout the summer. It’s so good you’ll want to eat it all, but take my advice and freeze some of it. You’ll thank yourself this winter.
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