Seems like every year at this time I’m writing something about basil (Occimum basilicum). Usually it’s because there is still a lot of basil that I need to harvest in the garden. I’m always looking for ways I can use this delicious herb.
I have grown accustomed to adding the herb to teas, both as a fresh and dried treat. Did you know that basil is high in Vitamin A and is therefore good for the eyes? As I spend a good deal of time staring at a computer screen or a book these days this is a tonic that I always need.
A Little History on Basil
This year I am writing about basil for a different reason. I just finished working on an article that featured the plant’s spooky past for a Halloween feature over at The Prescription Gardener. Basil got its Latin name from Greek mythology regarding a ruler name Ocimus. He was a man who arranged gladiator fights for public entertainment. Eventually, he was killed by one of his fighters and where his blood soaked into the ground, according to mythology, the first basil plant appeared.
So, a gory tale for one of our common kitchen herbs, who would have guessed? Basil started growing in the Middle East and moved around through trade routes from there. In each region of the world there were different beliefs and practices associated with it. In some areas it was a token of love, in others it was an expression of hate. My favorite tidbit was that at one point it was believed that smelling basil would cause an infestation of scorpions in the brain! Creepy!
Uses for Basil
Eventually, basil overcame its bad press and came to a place that we actually take it for granted as merely an additive to pasta sauce. It is high in essential oils that tend to make it anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Simply sitting next to a basil plant in the garden and breathing in its aroma can chase away the blues.
One of my favorite ways to use basil is, of course, pesto sauce. As I researched how basil was used in many parts of the world I came across a traditional Italian way to use pesto that I had never tasted. In Liguria, they make a dish that combines pasta, potatoes, green beans, and pesto sauce. I HAD to try this, since I have all of these vegetables coming out of the garden right now.
Basil Pesto Sauce for Pasta with Potatoes and Green Beans
- 6 cups broth (learn how to make your own)
- pinch sea salt (find unrefined sea salt here)
- 10 small new potatoes, sliced
- 2 cups green beans
- 8 ounces pasta
- 2 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1 garlic clove
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 2 cups fresh basil
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Fill a pot with the broth and bring it to a boil. Add a healthy pinch of salt. (You could use water, but I like the addition of the broth for flavor and added nutrition.) Boil potatoes until soft and then use a straining spoon to remove.
- Next add your green beans to the boiling broth and cook them about 7-8 minutes. Fish out the beans and then add the pasta. Cook per package instructions. Drain, but reserve some of the broth.
- For the pesto – combine the cheese, garlic cloves, pine nuts, and basil in a food processor and process until fine and blended. Pour the oil in slowly until you reach a spreadable consistency. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Add the potatoes, green beans, pasta, and pesto together in a serving dish and add a few spoonfuls of broth (or as much as you like) to make more of a sauce.
Do you have lots of basil yet to harvest? Check out these other articles on the benefits, uses, and different types of basil: