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