Ok, so it’s technically an herb, and technically the month is pretty much over, but we’ve been ALL about the basil at Farm to Fit this June and thus, it deserves some spotlight!
I worked on an organic vegetable farm in my mid-twenties, which is where I developed such an appreciation for basil. I don’t know why or how, but I never really had pesto until then. My first summer there, I made and ate more pesto than what is probably considered healthy. But hey, I had years of being basil-less to make up for!
On the farm, we devoted a few outside beds as well as an entire 100 ft. greenhouse to the crop. I will never forget the smell inside that greenhouse – it was like stepping into a dream-cloud of brushetta, pesto, and margarita pizza all at once. There are over 150 kinds of basil, each with their own distinct smell which is created by the different combinations of essential oils produced by the plant. The intensely wonderful smell is only part of basil’s beauty. It’s fresh, unique flavor is the perfect companion to tomatoes, cheeses, fish, pasta, zucchini, eggplant, etc. Basil is best preserved when used fresh, or added in at the last moment, as cooking reduces it’s flavor. Another way to store it long-term is to freeze the leaves. Or, make a pesto (like the one below!) and freeze in individual use baggies.
Native to areas in Asia and Africa, basil was brought from India to Europe in the 16th century. Basil is one of the most important herbs to many cultures and cuisines, including Italian, Thai, Vietnamese, and Laotion. Tulsi, as the herb is known in Hindi, means “sacred basil”. The scorpion is historically associated with basil- it was advised to handle basil gently as to avoid the breeding of scorpions. Scorpions were believed to seek out basil pots to rest under, and superstition taught that a sprig of basil left on its own underneath a pot would eventually turn into a scorpion.
Basil has been used as a folk remedy for an enormous number of ailments, including boredom, cancer, convulsion, deafness, diarrhea, epilepsy, gout, hiccup, impotency, insanity, nausea, sore throat, toothaches, and whooping cough. Basil has been reported in herbal publications as an insect repellent. Recent scientific research has investigated the health benefits associated with basil’s essential oils. Studies suggest anti-viral, anti-microbial, antioxidant, and anti-cancer properties of the oils, though further research is still necessary.
Check out the Portland Farmers Market this weekend and bring home a big bright-green bunch. Try it as a garnish on eggs, salad, pizza, or make a fresh pesto. In honor of my basil beginnings here is the first pesto recipe I ever used! Enjoy!
Super Simple Basil-Walnut Pesto
- 2 cups gently packed basil leaves
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese
- 1/3 cup walnuts
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
- 2/3 cup olive oil
*For a lower-calorie version, omit/reduce the cheese and oil, and use water!
Process the walnuts and garlic in a food processor for about 10 seconds. Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper and process until mixture resembles a paste, about 1 minute. Then, with the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly blended. Add the Parmesan and process a minute more. Use pesto immediately or store in a tightly sealed jar or air-tight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (this seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an ugly brown color). It will keep in the refrigerator for about a week. (If you’re planning on freezing it, omit the cheese and stir it in once you defrost it.)
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