In love with basil
We all love pesto, but basil also has other clever uses, writes Jackie French.
Spring means basil. Planting, scattering freshly picked basil, sniffing basil in the garden as the ground warms up. Here are four ways to grow it gloriously well …
1 A basket of basil
Choose at least two ornamental varieties, such as red-leafed basil, or lime-green lettuce leafed basil, or ruffled basil. Plant a large hanging basket with, say, a ring of red basil, then a ring of green; or a cascade of ruffled with a taller Thai basil in the middle. Better still, plant two, one for either side of the front door, for beauty as well as having a bunch to pick.
2 Fly-repellent basil on the window box
Basil really does repel flies – but you need lots. A single small pot of basil will make no difference at all. Buy a window box that can be clipped to your window sill; fill it with potting mix, slow-release fertiliser, water granules and then a great luxurious swathe of basil seedlings or seeds. Water every few days and see the flies buzz off at this basil barrier. 3 Basil sprouts
These are crunchy, sweet, fragrant, luscious … and until someone commercialises them you will have to grow your own! Spread cotton wool on a plate. Soak in water. Scatter on basil seeds. Keep in a sunny spot indoors, and water every evening. They will sprout in seven to 14 days. Let them grow to 2cm or so, then scatter for a spicy crunch in salads or as a delicious garnish.
4 The brilliant chef’s basil
Expert chefs know which variety of basil to use; there are hundreds, from perennial strong-flavoured Greek basil (it needs a frost-free climate) to Thai basil (also perennial in warm climates), a basil that’s faintly anise scented, or with a lemony tang. Buy punnets of “mixed basil” to try at least six different kinds. The best basil for tomato salad is lettuce-leafed basil – large soft leaves that can be used whole. The best basil for making pesto is the freshest, most flavourful basil you can get your hands on. Traditionally, the variety known as Genovese is considered the classic variety, but if you only have some wonderful sweet basil growing, that will also make an excellent pesto.
Don’t substitute any of the other lemon, lime, Thai or aniseed flavoured basils in your pesto, unless you want a radical change of flavour and the wrath of those of us who consider traditional pesto a pinnacle of flavour and classic Italian home cooking.