Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gardentime 2011: Basil, Basil, Basil

I went a little overboard with the basil plants this year. I picked up two different seed packets, one for sweet basil (or pesto basil) and the other for purple ruffle basil. Basil seeds are super tiny and a lot come in a single packet, so this year, as with last year but more so, I went a little nuts planting them.

A group of purple ruffle basil surrounds the mammoth sunflower (more on that in a later post). Sweet basil covers the soil around the tomato plant and hangs out with the hot peppers, both of them. All told, there's about 15 basil plants in the backyard.

Which means either a lot of pesto or some creativity. I've already put the basil to use in this Strawberry Basil Margarita recipe from The Kitchn as well as in strawberry basil ice-pops, from Mark Bittman at the New York Times.

And that leads us to the pesto. Is it the summer of pesto or does it just seem that way because I have an ass-ton of basil? Saveur had an article on pesto, complete with a gazillion (okay, 11) different recipes. I tried the Pesto Genovese recipe from the print issue. Pesto Genovese is your basic pine nuts-basil-cheese-oil pesto recipe. The Saveur recipe has you blanch the basil first which really affects the color in a dramatic way.

It's hard to believe this much basil:

Produced only this much pesto:

Look at that color. Usually, when I make pesto it's a dark green-gray color, not that vibrant green. While blanching adds a not inconsiderable number of steps and time to the process, I recommend it just for that color alone. I think it also made the pureeing process a little easier. Since I don't have a food processor, I have to use a blender. The blanched, softened basil was easier to chop up, giving me a smoother sauce, compared to the chunky versions I've dealt with in the past.

That batch of pesto only used up about half (or less) of the basil in the garden. The plan is to use it on potato gnocchi tomorrow. As for the rest of the basil, well, I see pesto tortellini in the future. Maybe some more ice-pops and margaritas.

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