2018-06-14 / From The Garden

Presto! Lemon Pesto!

By Cynthia Gibson

What is a summer meal without fresh basil? This herb, native to Turkey and the Mediterranean, is classic summer fare.

We have witnessed the influx of Asian cuisine, most of which use basil in their recipes. Thai and Indian recipes call for basil quite often. In our nurseries, we have found “Thai” basil that has a hint of “Thai” curry flavor. It is a wonderful herb and the leaves, when finely chopped and added to a soy sauce marinade, add great taste to cod or even steak.

While browsing the herb section of our garden centers this week, I came upon lemon basil, which I had not seen in the markets on Aquidneck Island for years. Lemon basil is a summer-must herb, if you can find it. The leaves are finer, smaller and lighter in color than Roman basil. All basil packs a punch, but lemon basil also packs the zest of a fresh lemon.

Basil is a simple herb that has been around for ages, and lemon basil is not to be missed. It is a leaf with many uses.

Basil is a strong, pungent leafy herb. Pre-cut basil will never taste as good as basil you have grown in the garden or in a pot. You want to taste the life of the plant.

A friend from Belgium, who had never had it before, said, “Boy, is that strong!” I gave her a leaf and it was bursting with the flavor of lemon. When it is turned into pesto, the punch calms down just enough to toss into the pasta of your choice and serve either warm or as a cold salad.

This lemon basil pesto can be used on fish before grilling or baking, and for many delightful hors d’oeuvres.

The combination of lemon and basil is a natural mix. Add olive oil and you really do not need vinegar. Add several of the delicate leaves of lemon basil to a green salad and presto, it is fabulous. It will also add a new dimension to chicken or tuna salads.

Lemon basil is also great for making Caprese hors d’oeuvres. But use strawberries instead of tomatoes.

On long toothpicks, alternate a small strawberry with a lemon basil leaf placed between a bite-sized ball of fresh mozzarella, and place them on a platter. Drizzle them with virgin olive oil and you have a fabulous treat awaiting you with an evening cocktail. This delectable leaf is great in any setting but sings during the summer on a terrace with a glass of rose!

Lemon basil was truly made for pesto. Drizzle it over freshly peeled and sliced cucumbers. Spread it on toast to serve with a cold soup. Its uses for culinary creations is endless.

Lemon Basil Marinade

3 crushed or minced garlic cloves
2 Tbs. cider vinegar
½ cup virgin olive oil
½ cup lemon basil leaves
Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree. The marinade will keep in the refrigerator for at least one week. It is terrific for raw shrimp, scallops, chicken or steak. It is also great brushed onto vegetables on the grill.

Lemon Basil Dip with Blanched Green Beans

Mix together:
1 cup finely chopped lemon basil
2 cups real mayonnaise
1-8 oz. container of sour cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Serve with 6 lbs. of blanched, trimmed green beans. Save a few of the whole leaves to garnish the top of the ramekin of dip.

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