To me, basil is one of the single greatest culinary delights of summer. It just doesn’t get any better – it’s easy to grow, even from seed, and there is no end to the ways that you can start cooking with basil right away.
It’s easy to start basil from seed. And I love the idea of starting seeds in an egg carton – it’s really easy and the kids will love taking charge of this project. You might even get them eating basil leaves right off the plant!
You will start having basil to harvest in as little as 6-8 weeks. I’ve grown basil every summer for years now and I will tell you the big thing that I’ve learned: if you want a beautiful bushy basil plant and a continuous harvest: TRIM it and harvest those delicious leaves often! After about six weeks when you have about six sets of leaves, start harvesting!!!
Once you trim the main stem, it will divide into two stems; then they each divide into two stems, and they divide into two stems, and so on, and so on… All this means more basil for you – YUM! If you are scared about this (because you are certain that trimming the plant will make it smaller…like I was for years) and you refuse to heed my advice, you will grow a tall, frail, spindly looking basil plant that will set flowers and die. Get past the fear and trim those plants! Now you’re ready to get started cooking with basil!
Cooking With Basil
Once you start harvesting, your supply should keep you cooking with basil all summer long. Depending on how much you want to use and whether you want to store some for later use, 1-3 plants should deliver more than enough summer deliciousness. Once you’ve harvested several stems, the easiest and longest lasting way to store them is to keep them, covered with a clear baggie, in a glass of fresh water on your counter. A stem or two might even start to sprout roots!
If you want to keep cooking with basil in colder seasons, you can whiz it up in your food processor or blender with olive oil. Then, pour the mixture into an ice cube tray. Whenever you want the summer flavor of cooking with basil during the winter, take out a cube and add it to a soup or stew.
Cooking with basil is the best part. Basil is amazing with meats, vegetables, pastas, in sauces (think pesto…). In short, amazing recipes for basil abound! And they can be SO easy! You can even make cocktails with basil. Seriously.
Last night, I roasted green beans and asparagus in a touch of coconut oil at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes; I added left over grilled red onions and peppers and raw carrots and green onions (I love the crunch!). Once all the veggies were combined, I tossed them in a easy vinaigrette that I made with chive infused olive oil and red wine vinegar.
Then I topped and lightly tossed with my basil chiffonade. What is basil chiffonade, you ask? Chiffonade is a method of cutting the leaves that is quick and simple – and looks beautiful!
Once you start cooking with basil, you’ll want to handle your basil leaves in one of two ways: tear them or chiffonade them. Tearing basil leaves is a great way to use them because it prevents the leaves from bruising – which they do easily. The other way that I love to use basil is to slice the leaves into a chiffonade. “Chiffonade” is a fancy term for slicing the leaves into ribbons. Stack about 10 leaves on top of one another and roll them up lengthwise. Then make thin tiny slices across the roll and you will have beautiful, fragrant ribbons of basil.
A little pink sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and, voila! I used this as a side dish. However…and this is where it gets fun. You can jack this basic recipe up ten ways from Sunday.
First, you can use WHATEVER combination of veggies you already have in your fridge – grill them; roast them; toss them in a vinaigrette; and add in fresh basil leaves and salt n’ pepper. Next – you could use this as a side dish the way I did; as a salsa over meats or fish; tossed with pasta, roasted spaghetti squash or “zoodles” for an awesome Meatless Monday; tossed with pasta and grilled chicken or steak for a Terrific Tuesday; as a slightly warm add in to a mixed green salad; or as a bruschetta topping with a dab of goat cheese or fresh mozzarella at a party. There’s really no end to the ways that you can use this one “recipe!”
I’m going to give you my last tiny basil secret. In addition to using the leaves, you can cook with basil essential oil as well as basil leaves. Plant essential oils can help support health and wellness. One or two drops can go a long way! I like to use a drop or two of basil, thyme, or oregano in my cooking or in my salads and dressings to add a wonderful, fresh, and genuine flavor to foods.
Enjoy cooking with basil and I’d love for you to leave me a comment with your favorite basil recipe!