2014-07-03 / From The Garden

The Best of Basil

By Cynthia Gibson


Aristotle basil is a dwarf Greek bush variety with true basil taste. Its attractive, naturally mounded shape and amazing fragrance make it a perfect basil for containers, both indoors and out. African Blue basil, on the right, has an earthy basil flavor with a mellow camphor scent. Aristotle basil is a dwarf Greek bush variety with true basil taste. Its attractive, naturally mounded shape and amazing fragrance make it a perfect basil for containers, both indoors and out. African Blue basil, on the right, has an earthy basil flavor with a mellow camphor scent. The word "summertime" conjures thoughts of the beach, boating, picnics, lots of sun, and, eating outdoors. The point of growing your own food during the summer is to eat it outdoors. Be it burgers and dogs, lamb chops, or fresh Newport sea bass on the grill, the ritual of outdoor cookery is now in full bloom.

Basil plants that were planted in May are ready to have their first leaves picked and tossed into a salad or made into that fine leafy paste called pesto. There is not much that compares with the fresh, pungent fragrance of homegrown basil. By picking just one leaf and pulling it apart, your fingers, nose and taste buds ignite!


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. Adding chopped basil from your garden can transform an ordinary pasta dish into a quick, cost-effective trip to Tuscany while you are still in your backyard. And, summer is not summer without fresh basil cut finely over freshly sliced garden tomatoes.

Basil is a tough-to-kill outdoor annual herb that flourishes in Rhode Island. You can grow it in the ground or in pots on your patio, terrace, or kitchen steps. It is best to plant in ten-inch pots or larger. Garden centers still have basil for sale for all of you latecomers. As long as the plant is outdoors, it will be happy with simple potting soil and regular watering, twice a day.

The best thing about basil is that it is the herb that keeps on giving. One small plant, given proper food and water, will grow to be two feet tall. To keep it growing and producing new leaves, pinch off the spikes of purple or white flowers that grow on the ends of the stem. Every pinch forces the plant to create two new branches. You can take potted basil indoors for the winter as long as it can enjoy filtered light (meaning a sheer curtain) at a window facing south.

There are more than 100 types of basil with many new varieties appearing in the marketplace each year. Pesto Perpetuo has been in the market since 2007, but not much of it comes our way. It can grow up to four feet tall and can be pruned into a topiary. African Blue is another variety worth having. Its green leaves gently meld into shades of periwinkle, then purple, and have a lemon taste. Aristotle basil is a funny plant. It grows in mounds that look as if half of a green basketball is growing in your garden! It is delightful.

A classic favorite is still the standard Italian basil. The huge leaves sometimes glisten with its strong oil. The second most popular is Thai basil or Siam Queen. Through hybridizing, the aroma of Thai curry is infused in the leaves of these plants.

Never limit yourself to simply chopping and scattering basil over tomatoes or making pesto; toss some of the more exotic leaves into a salad or sprinkle on top of jasmine rice.

Grilled or Sautéed Thai Basil and Lime Shrimp Serves 4

1½ lbs. large shrimp uncooked,
unfrozen, and deveined (tails on
is optional)
2 cups of fresh Thai basil leaves
1 bunch of scallions (roots
trimmed off)
1 tbsp. of finely-chopped fresh
ginger
2 large limes, juiced
3 large cloves of garlic
3 tbsp. of olive oil

Place all ingredients, except for the shrimp, into a food processor and puree until liquefied. Place the mixture into a bowl and salt and pepper to taste. Add the raw shrimp, mix well, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for three hours.

If you are grilling, place bamboo skewers in a bowl of ice water to make sure they do not catch on fire on the grill. Do this while the shrimp are in the fridge.

After three hours remove the shrimp from the refrigerator. Place five on a bamboo skewer and grill or gently sauté in a nonstick frying pan. As soon as the shrimp turn pink remove from grill or pan. Serve immediately.

Return to top