In love with basil

We all love pesto, but basil also has other clever uses, writes Jackie French.

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Clippings -

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.

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