14 September, 2010

Basil Season Is Almost Over - It's Time For Pesto

It's time for the basil harvest, which, in my book, means it's time for pesto!  Time to rummage around and find those taste buds and shine 'em up!  Here comes pesto!  I know this doesn't seem like it, but this is just one plant!

Perhaps now is not the time to be telling you how to grow basil because it really is one of our summer crops, but at this time of year, as we begin to consider the harvest for pesto, it's the time I reflect on growing basil and therefore, the topic is on the tip of my tongue, err, fingers. 

First of all there's the variety.  There are dozens of basil varieties to choose from, but I prefer an Italian strain, Genovese, or Genovesa among other names.  I have planted it long before the seed was common, but I see you can buy seeds from many sources, I have been getting mine from Bontanical Interests - their button is in the upper left of this page.I have had friends choose to grow the Lettuce Leaf basil, "leaves as large as lettuce leaves" is how it got its name, but their harvest paled compared to mine - of course mine was pampered a bit more, but still my harvest was so much better, there was no comparison. 

But I'm not growing Genovese Basil simply because it is larger - that's not the way I think.  I grow basil for the flavor and I think Genovese is by far and away the best tasting basil I've ever worked with.  I think its aroma is spell-binding and from that aroma, one's taste buds are ready to wrap around the sensuousness of basilness.  You can almost feel me drooling through the monitor...  

The basil crop this year has been an 'issue.'  In the coldest summer in Los Angeles I can remember, the basil plants did not do well.  We had a couple crop failures by setting out plants and getting a cold snap that ruined them.  And then, uncharacteristically, I did not have back up plants - it was a busy spring and summer...  Usually, I would have a whole second crop growing as back up, but I didn't and now I'm paying for it.  Last year, we had over 50 fully mature plants to use for pesto.  This year, I don't have a complete count, but I'm thinking it's only 35 or less.  And only a few of them are full big and bossy plants.  There are some plants so small we'll pull the whole plant, chop off the roots and throw the whole thing in the blender because they are so small.  

Basil needs heat and good soil.  Basil likes more sun vs. less.  Basil is not a heavy feeder, but will do better with lots of compost.  Basil is supposed to be a good companion crop for tomatoes, which makes perfect sense to me.  

I have told you my favorite for pesto.  I do grow other basils, but for other reasons.  The only basil I grow is the Genovese for pesto and I make a pretty standard pesto in that I stick to the traditional recipe and eschew walnuts, or almonds or any combination of ingredients I hear folks mention.  I'm sure they are all good, but in my book, they are 'pesto-like' and not pesto.  I'll post my recipe sometime soon.


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