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.
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!
- 2 cups basil leaves
- 1 cup olive oil