Rhapsody in basil

I’ve been meaning to trumpet about our basils almost since the day we planted them. So without further ado: I love basil (Ocimum basilicum)! Lavender is still the aromatic herb I would dress myself in head to toe if I could but there’s something totally blissful about being elbow deep in basil – it’s a comfort scent that I could just eat up. How convenient then that it’s food!

And it’s not just for the herb or vegetable garden anymore. This year, thanks to Gail making excellent seed catalog choices, we have some beauties and all around winners that we think look great in the mixed garden. She chose ‘Minette‘ and ‘Marseille‘ from Park’s; ‘Boxwood‘ from Burpee; and ‘Pistou‘ and ‘Queenette‘ from Johnny’s. They all have diminutive leaves and all but ‘Queenette’ made orbtacular blobs almost immediately after planting. ‘Queenette’ distinguished itself with an immediate array of decorative purple flower spikes and a refusal to bolt. It resembles a miniature and yellow-greener version of our old standby favorite ‘African Blue’ (which always surprises visitors when they learn that it’s not some kind of Salvia.) ‘Pistou’ has been the first to show signs of exhaustion – perhaps with a set of tiny hedge shears and a flair for topiary we could have coaxed a longer at-its-best season. The bees are sure enjoying the flowers though.

Ocimum basilicum ‘Marseille’‘African Blue’ BasilOcimum basilicum ‘Minette’Ocimum basilicum ‘Boxwood’Ocimum basilicum ‘Pistou’ mid July, before it boltedOcimum basilicum ‘Queenette’Ocimum basilicum ‘Pistou’ going for the bolt

I took my taste test too late in the season to tell the true tale of the flavors and not being a hardcore foodie, I probably couldn’t be very accurate in my descriptions anyway. – To me they taste a lot like … basil …! ‘Queenette’ definitely has a licorice edge though and ‘Minette’ is kinda minty. They all make the most adorable garnish but it might take a few entire plants to make enough pesto (or as the French have it, pistou) to go around. Speaking of pistou, Lyn (a Rockette) brought in a recipe for Soupe au Pistou from “Cuisine of the Sun” by Mireille Johnston. Here is a very abridged version:

1 lb. White beans

a lot of garden harvest vegetables – anything goes this time of year although tomatoes are not on Mme. Johnston’s list.

1/2 cup lean salt pork

2 quarts water

bay leaves, sage, salt ‘n’ pepper

Do your usual vegetable soup making thing and then right before you serve it, add the pesto:

3 cups fresh basil

4-6 garlic cloves

1/2 to 1 cup Swiss, Parmesan, or Romano cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

pinch of coarse salt

Voilà

But of course, nothing goes with basil like a fresh from the garden tomato. I’ll wager that in Super Stop & Shop, you will never find a tomato that would rather be a teapot.

I’m a little teapot! (get your mind out of the gutter)

Gardeners have all the fun! (Sorry, Julie. I know it’s rude but you can’t hand me a freak and not expect me to show it off!)

Have you grown any basils you think are spectacular to either look at or eat? Do you have any good recipes to share? Please link back if you decide to make a pesto post!

5 thoughts on “Rhapsody in basil

  1. I love basailicum. Here inPoland I grow it too and I deeply in love and share your emotions! No recipes to share unfortunately :(
    Greetings,
    ewa

    Hi Ewa, Let me know if you try the soup! -kris

  2. Had to call the hubs in here to see that tomato. Too funny.

    (hee hee!) – kris

  3. Oh WOW you have a lot of beautiful basil! Lovely how they mis with the other plantings. Someone randomly gave me an African Blue late this summer, still suffering in its 4″ pot. Planted with the zinnias and coneflowers, it’s turning into a stunner I don’t want to be without in the future! We stick to basic pesto (substituting pine nuts with hazlenute because we can’t easily get pinons, and because they are $20/lb…) but we put it on everything. I’m trying that soup recipe this week! Thanks for sharing your bounty :)

    Lynn, Please let us know how the soup turns out! And if you can, try to take cuttings of the African Blue – it roots pretty easily and even if they get woody over the winter, they’ll become gorgeous and lush when you plant them next year! -kris

  4. Thanks for the cutting tip on the African Blue, Kris. I’m a plant propogation newbie, so this will be a good incentive to try.

    That’s great, Lynn! We’ll be starting to take cuttings soon – I’ll try to remember to do a post about it! -kris

  5. Okay, I’m going to have to plant African blue next year in my front yard… with all those flowers, it deserves to be front and center, I think!

    I like both ‘Opal Purple’ and ‘Red Rubin’… in fact, I can never remember which I like slightly better than the other, so I usually end up planting both. But the only small-leaf one we can find around here is ‘Spicy Globe,’ which is still pretty nice. I just prefer the bigger leaves for harvesting.

    Here’s one tip for your pesto lovers: A lady shopping at the garden center this spring told me about a recipe she loves to make that includes sage pesto. (And apple slices, white cheddar cheese, and chicken breast, on focaccia-like bread.) You just sub the sage for the basil straight up, and her family likes it so well that they make it all the time now, especially throughout the fall, and use it for everything from garlic bread to pasta. Sounds yum.

    Kim, Sage pesto sounds totally delish – and perfect for someone like me who let the basil bolt! Gail makes a really excellent parsley pesto – it’s a subtle and green flavor. Have you ever made jelly from your purple basils? Julie does that and it is soooo good I’m actually addicted to it. -kris

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