2013-09-19 / From The Garden

Italian Basil Harvest Time

By Cynthia Gibson

Black opal basil. Black opal basil. This is the time of year to start savoring what is left of your summer vegetable garden. The unique flavor and aroma of homegrown Italian basil stands alone in reminding us of summer’s best offerings. Strolling in your vegetable garden or snipping a few leaves off your potted plants will immediately transport you to a Tuscan village, with visions of eating a simple plate of pasta tossed in pesto and garnished with fresh Italian basil leaves.

Basil is a versatile herb that most of us grow all summer long. It is one of the first herbs planted in the spring and one of the last harvested in the fall. As September slips by, it is the ideal time to gather your basil leaves for pesto, an all-time easy recipe that remains a crowd pleaser. In January and February, you will be thrilled to find neat packets of frozen pesto in your freezer, ready to thaw for a burst of summer taste. Putting up pesto this time of year is a simple, fragrant, and quick task that you’ll appreciate in the wintertime.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer, and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer, and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. There are different ways to freeze pesto. You can pour your fresh pesto into ice trays and later pop the frozen cubes into plastic freezer bags. The frozen squares will last up to four months and also allow you to use the exact amount needed. I also like using freezer jars, which can be purchased at your local hardware store. Be sure to leave one-half inch of headroom between the jar and the lid, and add one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. A pint jar produces six very healthy servings. Finally, a doublelock freezer bag is a good method, as they now have printed measurements to assist your efforts. As with the jars, I add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to every bag.

I find drying the basil to be a waste of time. Dried basil tastes like dried leaves, and its flavor does not approach the essence of piquant Italian basil. Using fresh or freshfrozen basil maintains the strong oils in its leaves and results in a better taste.

If you have not grown your own basil, go to the farmers’ markets and buy as much as you can carry. If you are lucky you will also find bunches of lemon basil, a true treat of an herb. It tastes like basil, but has strong lemony overtones. It is a delight in the kitchen and makes a great lemon pesto. The purple or “black opal” basil creates a scarylooking dark pesto that is perhaps best left for a Halloween treat.

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