Basil – pesto, cocktails. And personal scent?

There are many kinds of basil available to grow and enjoy, but I’ve stuck with genovese basil, which is an old stand-by for us generation x’ers. It has been my faithful companion for many years, seeing me through every recipe, especially pesto, and more recently in herbarium cocktails.

What’s an herbarium, you say? You can find it online several places, but a fun tutorial can be found at The Drunken Botanist’s site.

Along with being a great flavor in cocktails, basil is rich in vitamin K, is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and delivers other vitamins and health benefits. Yay! Something that tastes good and is good for you!

It’s getting cooler at night here in New England, so it’s time to harvest planted basil. I cut about 7 or 8 good size branches for dinner – it will make enough pesto for a box of rigatoni plus two servings. You don’t need much basil to make pesto, drinks, and anything else you’d like to make – it’s easy to grow and it is fragrant and delicious.

Basil harvest in September

In years past I’ve bought seeds, grown many basil plants, and spent hours upon hours making it into basil. Having a freezer full of basil pesto was great during the winter, particularly since my son is nut allergic and we can’t use the ones they sell in stores. This year, though, I bought a single plant and it has given me cuttings for every recipe, every salad, every drink, and tonight, for pesto. It has been a faithful garden tenant and asks for little. Just a little water, it’s happy.

A brief detour. I made dinner for our friend Dean one night recently and we started our evening with cocktails. On being offered a small selection of choices, Dean chose the Herbarium. This one calls for a few things: St Germain (elderflower liquour – delicious), lime, cucumber, and basil. He sat at our kitchen island as I prepared them and remarked on the scent of the basil – he loved it. Rubbing it between his fingers, he asked could I make a bespoke fragrance that incorporates it? I’m still working on that (basil is best fresh but I’m sure there’s a way to capture it); it has a rich, fresh, peppery scent, so I understand his request.

And now back to the pesto. It’s easy to make with or without nuts. For that matter, the french make something very similar, Pistou, that omits the cheese and the nuts and focuses on the garlic and the basil. So you can make this sauce in whatever way you please. Here’s a variation recipe:

  • fresh basil
  • 2-4 bulbs of garlic, roasted.
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • parmesan or romano cheese
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper.
  • optional – pine nuts

Roast garlic by putting unpeeled bulbs in a toaster oven or toaster and toasting at 350 until the peels are starting to brown. Roasting the garlic really adds a warm, nutty flavor to the pesto that I love.

Roasted garlic, a blender of basil leaves

Peel and combine the garlic, basil, and olive oil in a blender or food processor and process until chopped. Adjust the olive oil for the thickness you’d like the pesto to have (you can always add more olive oil later).

Add salt and pepper to taste, cheese, lemon juice, and pine nuts, and blend again. You can add olive oil if the pesto is too thick. This will swirl right onto cooked pasta or chicken (or whatever you like to eat with pesto).

If you decide to make an herbarium, pesto, or other basil-focused recipe and want to share it, please do! I’d be happy to post comments with links!

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