Monday, March 30, 2009

Plant Basil!

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Spring is here and I want to encourage everyone to buy a package or two (or more) of basil seeds and plant them in your garden, when the danger of frost is over for your area.

There are many varieties of basil, but the one which I plant and which is used most often in Italian food is typically called sweet basil. It has a sweet and slight licorice taste.

I have a lot of success planting basil in large flower pots. Once the seeds sprout I thin them out to allow for growth, and then all the basil plants need is full sun and regular watering. Basil plants also benefit from having their top leaves pinched off for use, as it grows, as this will help prevent the plant from bolting to seed. Just pinch off the top most leaves for use, and then you can also snip more from other branches as needed.

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Basil is the perfect addition to many culinary dishes, whether paired fresh with tomatoes in a caprese salad, or cooked in tomato sauce. Be sure to add it to the sauce at the last few minutes to preserve its flavor.

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I also used fresh basil leaves to make Pound Cake with Lemon-Basil Glaze last summer, a delicious cake I found in the June '08 issue of Cooking Light Magazine.

Pound Cake with Lemon-Basil Glaze

Ingredients

  • Cake:
  • 10 tablespoon butter, softened and divided
  • 1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour -- *I used half white, half whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3 large egg whites

  • Glaze:
  • 1/4 cup half-and-half
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • Dash of salt

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 325°.

2. To prepare cake, coat a 12-cup Bundt pan with 1 tablespoon butter, and dust with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar.

3. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 3 ingredients (through 1/4 teaspoon salt) in a bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar and the remaining 9 tablespoons butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in rind and extract. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine buttermilk and 2 tablespoons juice. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

4. Place egg whites in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at high speed until soft peaks form, using clean, dry beaters. Add remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold one-third of egg white mixture into batter; fold in remaining egg white mixture. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake at 325° for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cake from pan; cool completely on wire rack.

5. To prepare glaze, combine half-and-half and basil in a small microwave-safe bowl; microwave at HIGH for 45 seconds. Let stand 5 minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve over a bowl; discard basil. Combine half-and-half, powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons juice, and dash of salt; stir with a whisk until smooth. Drizzle half of glaze over cake; let stand 5 minutes or until set. Repeat procedure with remaining glaze.

Freezing Basil:

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Basil also freezes well! I had such a large crop last summer that harvested many of the bright green leaves towards the end of the season, washed and drained them well and then pureed them in my food processor. I placed the basil puree in ice cube trays lined with plastic wrap, filling each pocket. I froze them and then removed the frozen basil cubes from the ice trays and stored them in a freezer bag in my freezer. This way I could defrost as many cubes as I needed to add to my recipe.

You can also freeze basil pesto that you make in the same way, but omit the cheese as it doesn't freeze well. When you want to use it, defrost, and then add in the grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.

Having a supply of “fresh” frozen basil all winter was wonderful! I added it to my tomato sauces and vegetable soups, used some as a flavoring to add to sautéed vegetables, added some to salad dressings, used it as a topping for baked fish, and even made my fresh basil pasta recipe with it!

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Grow basil this summer. It’s truly one of the most versatile herbs of the garden!

29 comments:

aliceinparis said...

I adore basil. I am hoping to plant tons of it this summer. I love the idea of a lemon basil glaze on the poundcake.YUM!

Vee said...

Hmmm, I love basil, too, but have always just bought an inexpensive pot of it at my local garden center. This year, I may try growing it from seed. (I just started some lavender over the weekend so why not?) I've also been thinking of trying a raised bed as Manuela recently suggested. I do like container gardening best of all. Thanks for the suggestion and for the unique recipe!

Love the new pics of Leo in the sidebar...he's such a cutie pie!

steviewren said...

You've inspired me to try again Pat. I don't have enough full sun for to grow many sun loving plants. But, I might try mixing the basil with flowers down by the mailbox. It would be in the sun there.

The cake sounds delicious. A piece for breakfast this morning would be good.

CatHerder said...

YUM! Nothing makes me happier than walking out my back door with my little basket and being able to pick fresh herbs for dinner every night. I plan on planting a few more varieties of basil this year...of course rosemary (actually that has come back every year for the past 3 years without replanting) greek oregano, and cilantro. Spring seems so close but yet so far...my yard looks like a mudbog.

Tracy said...

Basil...mmm...on of my favorite herbs, it is so versatile! I always have a pot of if growing by the back door, easy to get to to snip off some while cooking. Our kitchen window does not have the best light, else I'd have some on the window sill there. That cake with lemon & basil sounds a treat--thanks for the recipe! :o) Happy week, Pat ((HUGS))

Darius T. Williams said...

I love basil...but I don't have a garden. I totally think you should ship me some. I can give you my address - seriously.

Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

I haven't grown any herbs before, but you are inspiring me to give it a try!

Be sure to come by today and look at my Tiles for America post-this is the place that I was telling you about.

Have a great day,
Diane

Pat@Back Porch Musings said...

I really like to use Basil for soups and other dishes. I should throw some seed in one of the beds. I've grown it in pots. I wonder how it travels. I want to plant several herbs, but we travel between the lake and home so much, it would be great to be able to box up the pots and take between home and here.

Melanie said...

I am a big basil fan. I have a pot of it in the kitchen where I can grab the leaves and cook them easily. I love the smell it gives off when you water it too. I did try to grow licorice basil from seed one year. I tended the try and got all excited when one plant appeared. Then I had a visitor "Why are you growing a buttercup?" Hmmm. LOL

Would you believe the gazania and strawflower seeds have sprouted already?

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Thanks for the reminder to plant basil. I've got six varieties of little tomato seedlings sprouting, but still haven't bought my tomato seeds. What an interesting idea for the pound cake? Who knew?

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

You read my mind! I just picked up a bunch of small herb plants for my garden, including sweet basil, of course. I'm hoping to get them all planted today.

Love the cake! Lemon and basil is such a great combo. I make a lemon sorbet with fresh basil and mint that I just love!

Junie Moon said...

What a great idea, such a perfect springtime project, too. I appreciate your sharing the recipe as well as how to utilize and save the resulting basil leaves. You are absolutely brilliant!

pammiejo said...

I have a package of Sweet Basil seeds as I write just waiting to go out in the herb garden - or in a pot, haven't decided. Could you post a good pesto recipe that you use? I'd like that! PAM

black eyed susans kitchen said...

We will absolutely have to try that recipe. We grow several varieties of basil every year. Last year we made extra pesto at the end of the season and froze it. It's like having a little summertime treat in the winter.
♥, Susan

Nola @ the Alamo said...

I couldn't live without my basil, cilantro, and sage! The photo of the mozzarella, tomato, and basil salad is making me soooooo hungry!

Mermaid Queen said...

Oh I love basil! I just think it's a lovely smelling plant, even if you don't cook. I'm so hungry right now, and the pasta dish looks yummy.
Take care Pat,
Martha

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Oh, Pat... if only I could grow things without committing plant homicide! And we already know about my cooking misadventures. So I'm going to live vicariously through your blog! :-)

I'm thinking of you. Got your message from yesterday and want you to know I'm sending big hugs your way!

XO,

Sheila :-)

Willow said...

OK! I love basil too! My seeds are planted! I read your sentence about basil being a great addition as basil being a great ADDICTION!

Susie Q said...

I just love basil. It is good in so many dishes..
Grace and I have decided to try to grow a few things on our deck and basil is one of those things!

Love,
Sue

Kim @ Forever Wherever said...

I planted sweet basil in some pots a few weeks ago. Can't wait to have it fresh! This is a great food post. I'd love to have you join our Tasty Tuesday blog party with it.
~Kim

Nana Trish is Living the Dream said...

Pat, I also love basil. It tastes great with green beans and a little butter.

Leo is growing so much. He is so adorable. Aren't you just crazy about him? Grandchildren are the best!!

MuseSwings said...

Very interesting combination for the glaze! I put fresh basil in the blender with some olive oil and make a smooth paste. Then I spoon it into a jar and freeze it for use in spaghetti sauce and other recipesd. It keeps it's rich green color and fresh flavor for months.

Gina said...

Your basil looks so healthy, I'm always too slow and it gets hit by the frosts..can you remind me again after our winter? lol Gx

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

Will the danger of frost ever be over in our area this year, LOL?!

I planted basil in pots last year from little plants I bought at the Ladies' Auxiliary plant sale (how could I resist those charming little ladies?!) but I'm encouraged to try from seed this year. I mean, if I can grow corn how hard can basil be, right? :-) I do need deeper pots, though -- the soil dried out very quickly and we're not at the shore house during the week.

Great post with lots of yummy ideas!!

Proud Italian Cook said...

I couldn't live without basil Pat, it's my favorite herb! Plus, I'm sick of paying for fresh basil in the stores!

Lora said...

Thanks for the basil tips! I've grown it before, but it's been a long time. I'd like to have a garden this year though and definitely would love some herbs.

ARLENE said...

I don't like gardening, but I have several window boxes on my back porch for my basil, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. I freeze my basil in ice cube trays; alas, it never lasts long enough!

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

I love basil...and had a potted plant in the kitchen for the last while. Soon it will be growing in the garden once again. Your basil/tomato salad looks like somehting we enjoyed on the cruise. I'll be back to check out your basil recipes!

It's good to catch up after a long break.

Cianoy said...

Hello there from one sweet basil fan to another. My sweet basil's still a baby, but my cinnamon basil's good for picking already. I tried tea earlier. It tasted like water. I don't think I boiled enough leaves. ;-)