This week’s guest blogger Noelle Weaver was born and raised in Goshen, Indiana amidst corn and cow fields. Noelle now lives amidst the exploding artisanal food scene in the urban area of Brooklyn, New York. A marketing consultant by day, during nights and weekends she pursues the life of an incidental foodie and cook exploring all the various flavors and tastes that cultures both old and new have taught us about who we are, how we live and the importance of history and ritual that are handed down through the foods we eat. Follow her on twitter @FoodieLore.

Growing up in the Midwest, the flavoring of food in my family never really went much further than the alphabetized glass jars of spices lined up on two small shelves in the local grocery store and the blue Morton Salt girl.

It was a magical transition when I moved from home to attend college in a major city and began to cook for myself. I grew up in the kitchen, and it was a joy to take the many family dishes and foods that my mother had also grown up with and make the handed-down recipes all my own. I quickly discovered the enhanced flavors and many uses that fresh herbs and spices could add. Basil grew to become my first love.

During those post-college summer months Saturday brought trips to the farmer’s market in Lincoln Park, Chicago and the purchase of a large bunch of sweet basil for a dollar. Some of it I would cut up and freeze with bits of water in ice cube trays for later use in the many winter stews and soups Chicago’s frigid winters demanded. Others would be torn up and added to a bowl of sun warmed tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and sea salt for lunch. And a few of the big rich green leaves would be added to a bouquet of brightly colored asters and sat next to the window where the breeze would fill the small studio apartment where I lived with that wonderful pungent sweet clove-like aroma.

It has been written that in Italy, basil is a symbol of love. A woman only needs to put a pot of it in her window to symbolize that she is ready to receive suitors. The Italians, in my opinion, always had it right in their belief of the importance of combining food and love. Today’s kitchens have come a long way from sprinkling a little dried basil from one of mom’s Durkee tins in the Wednesday night pasta sauce, and I for one, look forward to combining my own mix of food and passion with the herbal flavor I love so much.

Pesto.

I was surprised to learn that pesto, is actually a relatively new addition to the U.S. food scene. While it was quite popular in Italy during the 1800’s it wasn’t until 1954 that the New York Times published an article that mentioned an imported canned pesto paste and it took another two years for Angelo Pellegrini, author of books about the pleasures of growing and making your own food and wine, to publish a recipe for pesto in Sunset magazine. 40 years later, the sauce began to gain popularity on American menus.

With the recent rise in pine nut prices I started experimenting with various flavors of nuts – – I found that if you roast the walnuts in the oven (350 degrees, 5 minutes, shake pan, another 5 minutes) before making the pesto, the walnuts add a deep rich flavor to this summery sauce.

Basil Walnut Pesto

3/4 cup finely chopped roasted walnuts

4 cloves garlic, minced or crushed

1 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano

1 1/2 cup grated pecorino Romano

4 cups of packed Italian or sweet basil leaves

1 cup of loosely packed fresh lemon basil leaves

1 cup of loosely packed fresh parsley leaves

3-5 tablespoons high quality olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional), black pepper (optional)

Directions

Place basil and parsley leaves, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, walnuts, garlic and salt in food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined. Add cheeses and blend 5-10 seconds more. If you need a little more moisture add additional bits of olive oil until Pesto is the consistency of molasses. Let the pesto sit for half an hour to an hour for flavors and fragrance to blend and come out in the sauce.

Pesto will store in the refrigerator for several weeks. In addition to adding it to both hot and cold pasta dishes, I’ve also spooned some on to baked potatoes, warm French bread, grilled fish or shrimp and used it as a base coat for homemade pizza.

Basil Tea.

Basil is a heat loving plant. So as the mercury rises, it seems only natural to celebrate the days of summer with a tall glass of sweet basil and mint iced tea. You may not think of basil as an herb used for tea, but being in the mint family, it shares many of the same properties. This iced tea is cool, refreshing, just a tad sweet, and aids in digestion. Feel free to tweak the basil to mint ratio below (I tend to actually add a little more mint) – I also have a friend who cuts this recipe in half and adds it to her normal sun brewed black tea as a flavoring.

Sweet Basil and Mint Iced Tea
20 leaves of fresh mint

20 leaves of fresh basil
2 tsp Honey
8 c water (1/2 gallon)

Put 4 cups of the water on to boil. Rinse herbs and tie up in cheese cloth to let steep. Pour the water over the herbs and let them steep for at least 10 minutes. Strain the tea, boil the other 4 cups of water and steep the leaves again.

The tea from the first round should be very strong, so this second steeping gets additional taste out of the leaves but also waters down the batch. Mix all of the tea and honey together in a large pitcher. Taste test, if it’s still too strong add a bit of water to your liking. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving.

Garnish with additional mint.

by Noelle Weaver

Reader Comments

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AC

I couldn't live without basil. I grow no fewer than five kinds every summer. I'm so happy to read of another basil-fetishist, and your recipe seems marvelous. I can't wait to try it.

Reply
Lori

As I have very limited space for gardening, I have to plant most everything in containers. I have rosemary, Greek oregano, mint, and basil. I've had so much in fact that I've made to date 6 very large batches of pesto. The rosemary is thriving and use the oregano in most of my marinades. I use the rosemary to make infused oil.

Lee, I am going to try your recipes, they sound delicious.

Love the blog, love the web site !!!

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Lee

Hi Joan,

What does the 'white stuff' look like? Does it resemble a powder on the leaves? Or does it look like little tiny cotton balls on your leaves? One is a fungal disease, the other an insect, and the treatment would depend on which you have. If you can describe it in a little more detail, I will try to help out.

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Joan

I have two types of basil, one is the basic one, and the other is a "basil tree". The basil tree has white stuff on the leaves. What is it? I have been spraying diluted dish soap on it. Is there anything else I can do?

Thanks!

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Lee

Normally, I grow just about every type of herb I can get my hands on, but Basil and Mint are by far my two favorites. Yes, I know, one self-seeds like crazy, and the other can take over a garden given even half a chance, but they are still wonderful. But one thing that always makes me sad is the number of people who don’t move beyond the ‘Big Box Home/Garden Store’ varieties.

For basil, there are so many wonderful varieties, each with their own scent/taste and potentials. Basil can be easily grown from seed, so there everyone can enjoy not only the big leaf/Italian basil, but also lemon basil, lime basil, cinnamon basil, Thai basil or licorice basil, red or purple or blue, sweet basil and spicy basil. Search a bit on line, and you can find an amazing array of basils to try.

Yes, you can make pesto. But you can thinly slice lemon basil, and add it to scrambled eggs before frying. Thinly slice cinnamon basil, and mix with FRESH tomatoes from the garden, olive oil, and a dark, sweet Balsamic vinegar that sticks to the side of the bottle, salt and pepper to taste, and let sit for any hour before serving with thick slices of homemade bread.

Rough chop some lime basil, and mix into your favorite salsa. Chop up some spicy basil to give tomato sauce a bit of a kick. Thai or licorice basil can be added to a drink to give an interesting twist, and I am sure you can figure out many more things to do with the basil.

To keep that wonderfulness around year round, invest in a good dehydrator. No, it is not as good as fresh, but the stronger varieties like lemon and cinnamon will still be good 6-8 months later when there is no fresh basil around. Or if you are a good home plant grower, it will do just fine on a window sill; not as strong a scent, but better than anything you will get in the grocery store!

I just wish that I had room to grow even more of the stuff.

Reply
Roger

Noelle:

I recently received a recipe for Basil Ice Cream! I thought of you and this blog about Basil and I thought about posting the recipe here. But I never pass along or post any recipe until I've tried it myself, preferably several times. Initially I thought, "Basil Ice Cream? Ridiculous!" I might have tossed it aside, but having just read about basil tea and using it in a Gin and Tonic … well, I decided I should try it before I knock it. My thanks to those who posted new and different ideas about basil previously – my horizons ARE expanding.

I went ahead and made several batchs of this slightly-green ice cream and discovered that it's DELICIOUS!

I had a vision of running across a freshly-mowed field at the end of a thunderstorm.

With the right kind of meal this could seriously become the "coup de grace" or the "Piece de Resistance" at the end. I invite everyone to try it – at least once. It's not hard to make but pay very careful attention to the details in this recipe. The first time I tried it I ended up with poached basil-flavored scrambled eggs! So DO use a HEAVY pan, use an INSTANT READ THERMOMETER and pay very careful attention to the temperature of the mix. I tried it again and took it off the heat at 160 degrees because it started to boil, then plunged my pan into ice water. Once cooled the mixture easily churned into a delectable frozen treat in my ice cream machine. Several of my skeptical friends have also agreed that this is really something special!

BASIL ICE CREAM

• 2 cups whole milk

• 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

• 1/2 cup sugar, divided

• 4 large egg yolks

• 1/2 cup well-chilled heavy cream

Special equipment: an instant-read thermometer; an ice cream maker; a prepared ice water bath.

Bring milk, basil, 1/4 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, stirring, then remove from heat and let steep 30 minutes. Transfer to a blender (reserve saucepan) and blend until basil is finely ground, about 1 minute.

Beat together yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until thick and pale, about 1 minute. Add milk mixture in a stream, beating until combined well. Pour mixture into reserved saucepan and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 170°F on thermometer (do not let boil). If mixture starts to boil before the thermometer reads 170 take it off the heat and stop.

Immediately pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl. Set bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and stir until cold, 10 to 15 minutes.

Stir in the cream and freeze in an ice cream maker. Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden, at least 2 hours.

Enjoy!

Reply
Noelle

Heather – Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I got some basil as well and sense a week of wonderful pesto bliss at mealtime!

The wacky herbist – tried the basil gin and tonic this weekend as you suggested. Heavenly!

Reply
Heather

Thanks so much for the great pesto recipe, the perfect use for the basil in my CSA share this week! The toasted walnuts give it great flavor.

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Alice

I really enjoyed this article and plan to experiment with some of the recipes listed here.

I've started my first raised bed garden this year. It's been pretty successful, although I did start a little late. I'm having a problem with my basil, though. Something seems to be eating it. I have marigolds planted around it because I read that marigolds can help repel pests. Could you recommend something to help my basil out?

Thanks guys! Love the show and the blogs! :]

Reply
Josh Kilmer-Purcell

marigolds are good. hard to say about the basil without knowing the pest, but one of the best bug repellents we use is a really gross tea. use an old, clean, windex-type bottle. then put this inside:

some dead flies or bugs from your attic or windowsills. enough to cover the bottom or so.
3 crushed up garlic cloves
a spoonful or two of some kind of hot pepper. flakes, powder, whatever.
a teaspoon size hunk of our soap. (or any soap, but try to find a chemical free one.)

fill with water and set in a sunny window for a day or more. shake to help dissolve everything. don't open and smell! trust us. it stinks. and the bugs hate it.

then go spray on the leaves. of course you're going to want to not do it right before harvest, since you'll be eating the leaves. and you'll also want to be sure you rinse them thoroughly.

dunno know if this will work for your pests, but it seems to repel a lot of them.

Reply
Kristen

Ironically I have a basil AND a mint plant that, with the exception of a few sauces on the part of the basil, have been underutilized. I'll definitely have to try the basil mint tea tomorrow!

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Sheila - the gypsy b

When my sister-in-law was pregnant I created a mock gin & tonic that was surprisingly close to the real thing. I filled a glass 2/3 with ice and topped that with 3 generous slices of lemon which had been dredged in granulated sugar. Next I added basil leaves and muddled the leaves. Gently por tonic water over the basil and lemon for a tasty non-alcoholic alternative (if you're into that sort of thing, which I'm not.) 🙂

Reply
n the wacky herbist

Basil in my opinion is the only HERB… have you tried basil syrup in your gin and tonic?

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Sheila - the gypsy b

At least once or twice a summer I make up a batch of basil-infused olive oil. That way I have the great taste of fresh basil available year 'round in an amazingly vibrant green oil. Great on pasta, veggies, roasted meats, grilled breads–mmm!

Reply
Pauline Mucciaccio

Hi,

Enjoyed reading your article. Just transplanted a bunch of my basil seedlings into the garden a little while ago. Will definitely give the Basil Tea a try, thanks for this and the other recipes you provided.

Nothing says summer is here like the scent of basil, a ripe tomato, & corn on the cob.

Best Regards,

Pauline

Reply
Dr. Brent

We couldn't agree more, Pauline. Our friend, Barb Melera, the owner of D Landreth Seed Co., has given us the idea of having a pesto party later this summer. You'll have to join in!

Reply