Fresh basil offers a refreshing flavor boost to many dishes, especially those with Italian or Thai flavor profiles. Basil leaves in lemonade and cocktails take everyday flavors to the next level. Pluck off a few leaves, cut or rip them into small pieces and add to nearly any Italian dish, including sauces, pizza, or pasta. Homemade pesto, like this one is easy and delicious. Substitute half of the basil with fresh baby spinach for a fast, nutrient-dense meal.
Chiffonade! It sounds fancy and it’s fun to say. It’s also an extremely useful trick. Stack leaves into a flat pile, with the base of each leaf lined up and all stems piled up at the same end. Roll the stack into a tube and apply gentle pressure, rolling it under your fingers to lightly bruise the leaves. This will release the oil contained in the cells and increase the flavor profile. With the leaves still rolled, begin slicing the tube across the width, each slice a millimeter or two wide. You’ll end up with long, thin basil strips that look just like the ones at your favorite Italian restaurant. Now your basil is easy to sprinkle evenly on your pizza or mix into your sauce. Add it to your hot dishes at the last moment to avoid over-cooking, which will destroy the flavor.
Did You Know?
There are an estimated 50 to 150 species worldwide. While all are edible, most have flavors or textures that are not useful for cooking. O. basilicum, or sweet basil, is the primary variety used worldwide.
Know to Grow
A happy, healthy plant will provide around a ½ cup of fresh, basil-y goodness per week. Prepare a container with a pH-neutral soil that will hold moisture and is well-drained. An organic fertilizer will help provide nutrients and maintain the neutral pH range of 6.0-7.5 needed for healthy basil. Layer gravel or broken pot shards at the bottom of the container to keep soil in while excess water flows freely out. Water when the soil is dry to the touch and avoid watering the leaves, which might cause rot and molding diseases. Water at the base or, better yet, opt for a drip filtration system. Take note of the projected size of the plant variety you choose – basil can grow anywhere from 12 to 24 inches – and be sure to space them properly.
Grown outdoors, basil can be a very picky plant, flourishing in environments that are warm, but not hot, in light that is bright but not too intense. One hot day can zap a basil plant. Grown indoors, it will thrive year round in ten hours of light. Be sure to use cool LED lights, or keep your heat-producing lights well above the canopy. In general, using a cool LED bulb is especially optimal for basil, which is sensitive to heat. Bulbs can be from 12-24 inches above the canopy, but no more than 30 inches. Heat-producing bulbs, like fluorescents, need to be hung about 12 inches from your plants, because the light isn’t as strong. that means they will need to be raised as your plants grow taller. Smaller container gardeners prefer spicy globe basil, which grows in a more compact formation. To harvest leaves for use or when pruning, cut the stem about an inch above the two largest bottom leaves. This will encourage a compact habit and prevent leggy growth.
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