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Growing and Cooking with Basil

One of the most commonly grown culinary herbs is basil, an annual that loves the weather to be warm or even hot for its best performance in the garden or in containers. On page 25 of our 2020 Early Spring Catalog, we offer three varieties, including a pair of All-America Selections Winners (thrived in monitored field test conditions nationwide), Sweet Dani Lemon and Dolce Fresca; and our favorite selection of Genovese or Sweet Basil. On page 44, we offer another AAS Winner, Thai ‘Siam Queen’ Basil, as well as our choice variety of Lemon Basil and a mixture of varieties in Gourmet Special Blend Basil.

Basil is very easy to grow from seeds and is often pre-started in cell-packs or small pots and later transplanted to the garden or into larger containers. The key element for easy germination is plenty of bottom heat inside or external heat when directly seeded outside. Also be certain to maintain even moisture before and after germination, as the tender, fragrant leaves love plenty of water as well as sunlight. Basil is another of those herbs like cilantro (coriander) that needs to be seeded every two to three weeks, as their mature plants tend to bolt quite easily, especially in quite hot weather.

Now for the best part, here are two of our favorite recipes from Cathy Cleary’s The Southern Harvest Cookbook, utilizing basil:

Lemon Zest Pesto

3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 lemon, finely grated zest and juice
4 cups packed herb leaves (parsley, lemon basil, cilantro)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup toasted almonds
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil or almond oil

“Combine garlic and lemon in a food processor or mortar and pestle and process until garlic is chopped. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Substitute 1-2 cups of lemon balm for other herbs if you have it.”

Homegrown Herb Vinaigrette

“Salad dressing might sound like a strange Christmas gift, but I (The Southern Harvest Cookbook author Cathy Cleary) take inspiration wherever I can get it, and one year my bumper crop of parsley inspired the gift of Homegrown Herb Vinaigrette. In early November as I stood in my garden wondering what the heck I was going to make for Christmas presents, bushy parsley plants waved at me. The green leaves stayed healthy through the first few frosts, and in mid-December, I made huge batches of this dressing. As everyone else was gorging on cookies, my friends and family were happily munching on deliciously dressed lettuce leaves. Makes about ¾ cup.”

¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
1 cup packed leafy herbs, such as parsley, basil, or cilantro
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

“Combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until herbs are finely chopped.”

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