All that fresh basil!

English: Basil Basilico Ocimum basilicum albahaca

Now that my basil plant has taken off, it’s getting quite huge and is about to go into flower.  To keep basil tasting it’s best, it must be harvested often.  You want to prevent it from going into flower, since it sends all of its sugars (energy) into the flowers in order to produce seeds.  Without those sugars, the leaves lose some of their sweetness, resulting in a more bitter flavor.

Basil Flower

If you notice flowers starting to form, pinch them off.  If you haven’t been harvesting regularly (like me) and a flower forms, then you probably should do a large-ish harvest. Just pinching off one bloom will usually only result in many smaller blooms appearing shortly.  So what should we do with a large basil harvest?  Make pesto of course!!!  (Additional ideas below: make basil oil, use basil leaves on a pizza with other fresh veggies from the garden, use to make an infused water, or freeze ice cubes of chopped basil for future cooking)

Here’s the recipe I used to make pesto with students (note that traditional pestos usually have pine nuts, but I’ve omitted those for nut allergy purposes.  It still tastes great!):

First harvest basil as a class.  Tell each student to pinch off a couple leaves (or more or less, depending on the size of your class).

  • 2 cups of basil leaves, stems removed
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic (with my very young students, we only used one clove)
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

Slice the garlic into chunks.  Place in blender with basil and cheese.  Start blending, slowly adding oil until you have the desired consistency.  Toss with pasta and/or vegetables!

English: Pesto being processed.
Pesto being processed. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Basil Oil:

  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1 cup olive oil
This basil infused oil is full of flavor, perfect for making salad dressings, stirring in soups (yum with tomato soup!), or drizzle over a shrimp or chicken recipe for extra pizzazz.
Bring a pot of water to a boil on the stove.  Put basil leaves in the water for 5 seconds and then immediately strain them out.  This softens the leaves and releases the flavor.  Place the leaves in the blender with oil and blend for at least one minute, until you cannot see pieces of the leaves anymore.  Strain the mixture once with a sieve.  Strain a second time using cheesecloth, or an extremely fine strainer.  You may need to help it strain by moving it around with a wooden spoon.  The result is a beautiful emerald green oil.
You can save the leaves to reuse in a pesto, or in any other cooking!  You can even freeze the oily leaves for future use, and it keeps its flavor beautifully.
Basil Ice Cubes:
Alternatively, if you have a large basil harvest and want to save some for future cooking, you can chop it finely, place it into ice cube trays (1 tablespoon per cube), cover with water, and freeze.  This way, it keeps its flavor quite well, and you can defrost small amounts for future cooking!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. solarbeez says:

    You’re so lucky to have basil already. Are you growing it in your poly tunnel? We’ve got ours outside and the temps dip into the low 50’s at night. That might account for why it’s not growing so fast. Happy Pestoing.


    1. I think the weather must be the major difference! I’m in the chicago area and we’ve had 90+ degree days with 70-80 degree nights for the last few weeks. No need to use a poly tunnel out here! I used to live in NYC, where the weather was just a touch more temperate, and we are ahead of my old gardens in ny by a couple weeks.


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