Fragrant and tasty, basil can be grown on your windowsill, says Susan Jane Murray. And it's brimful of nutrition
Published 02/05/2010 | 05:00
Basil is a devil to grow in Irish gardens. In order to thrive, this verdant little herb demands plenty of sunshine and tender loving care, neither of which I can successfully source. So I deviously bought my fiance a windowsill farm from www.quickcrop.ie for his birthday. Highly recommended. It puts the perfect amount of pressure on him to tend our new library of herbs so as not to risk insulting me after I gave him such an ostensibly thoughtful gift. Women can be so cunning. It must be all those omega-3 foods I'm eating.
So now I have oodles of glorious fresh basil singing with flavour and nutrition -- iron, calcium, chlorophyll, antioxidants, vitamin K and beta-carotene. Our kitchen is alive with its uplifting fragrance and our suppers are exhibiting a decidedly Italian flair. Yes, it's definitely recommended.
Good green pesto is a combination of top-quality Parmesan cheese, pricey pine nuts, industrial amounts of fresh basil and the best olive oil you can get your hands on -- in other words, pretty darn expensive to make outside Italy. Here are two alternatives that won't spoil your bank balance or your pasta.
You will need:
2 large bunches fresh basil leaves
1 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Crack of black pepper
Good unrefined salt
Remove stalks from the fresh basil leaves and discard. Make sure the leaves are not tainted with black spots as these will make your sauce bitter. Process the fresh basil leaves, the olive oil, the crushed garlic, some black pepper and unrefined salt -- in an electric blender until they become a lush, green puree. E presto! Spoon over salads, lasagne, omelettes or tomato soup. You should be able to keep the pesto in the fridge for up to 10 days by adding a dash of lemon juice and good unrefined salt such as Maldon flakes or pink Himalayan salt crystals. There is no comparison in the taste or in the health benefits between mineral-rich unprocessed salts and refined, chemically-treated table salts. As long as you are drinking enough water, mineral-rich, unadulterated salt is a positive benefit to the body, generating electrolyte activity between your neurotransmitters, maintaining good blood chemistry, aiding digestion and allowing our nervous systems and muscles to function optimally. The trouble is, most of us consume too much of the nasty, refined stuff hidden in packaged foods, often leading to high blood pressure and an unhappy doc. So chuck out the table salt immediately.
After several weeks of begging, an apprentice of Jamie Oliver's finally showed me how to infuse oils, true Italian-style. It was a desperate bid to impress a talented colleague with my culinary exquisiteness. Upon presenting him with the bottle, complete with red ribbon and dancing eyes, he unexpectedly bolted. I can only assume he thought I was asking for a massage!
You will need:
1 large handful fresh basil, including stalks
2 cups extra virgin olive oil
Gently heat the fresh basil and the extra virgin olive oil in a saucepan until blood hot -- that's around body temperature. The idea is not to boil the oil. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Wash a glass bottle in hot, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Sterilise by putting it in an oven at 140°C, 284°F, Gas 1, and strain the basil oil into it while it's still warm. Boil the screw-top lid for five minutes prior to storing. Or use as an aromatic massage oil, I guess.